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Manifold Motion gives viewers a peek at the underworld of nature

Written by Mariko Nagashima

Part modern dance concert, part interactive installation, Manifold Motion’s performance of Underthis Saturday evening is a tribute to all things moldy, mossy, and fungal. In small groups of about fifteen people, viewers are guided through the performance which is held in several rooms of a repurposed office building. These rooms have been filled with original art work, lighting, and music to create the unique world of Under, in which trees and mushrooms come to life.

 To begin the tour, the audience is greeted by Alexandra Baybutt, the “Moldy Minstrel,” carrying a bobbing lantern. Baybutt glides through the foyer and beckons the audience into the first room. Complete with fabric laden walls, toadstool-like cushions on the floor, and music filled with the sounds of nature, this room creates the impression of entering a wooded glen. Guided by Baybutt to interact with the artwork, the group activates a set of fuzzy appendages, which buzz and light up with each touch, suspended from one wall; and plays with the gooey substance dripping from another wall, before sitting down on the cushions to watch the first dance of the evening.
The soloist, Elizabeth Rose, slowly begins to stir from her fetal position in the corner of the room, revealing that her hands, which disappear into a pair of mottled sleeves, are firmly rooted to the ground. Demonstrating incredible strength and control, Rose twists and flows through a series of sustained hand and shoulder stands. These isolated movements escalated to tumbling passages where Rose ran her feet along the corners of the room and threw her body over her arms in dynamic somersaults attempting to break free from her anchored hands. After continuing to rock vigorously back and forth tugging frantically at her hands, she eventually resigns herself to her rooted condition and resumes her initial curled-up position. The proximity of the audience to Rose, who was barely a few feet away, made for a unique dance experience as every facial expression was visible, every breath was heard, and the effort behind each movement was almost tangible.
The group is then ushered through a curtain to the darkened second room. With a ceiling of slowly undulating mesh fabric and eerily blue lighting, this room creates the sensation of being inside something alive and writhing. The audience gathers around a mound of crumpled paper in which the second soloist is cocooned. Clad in a slinky black gown, Mary Cutrera slowly emerges from her pupa, standing with her back to the audience and her hands cupped tightly over her shoulders. Accompanied by the sound of dripping and percolating water, Cutrera remains halfway in her cocoon and begins to writhe about and swat the air, mouth agape as if foraging for sustenance. The solo climaxes with her convulsing wildly and eventually collapsing, contorted from her exertions. This intensely focused performance truly drew the viewer into Manifold Motion’s dark underworld.
Upon entering the third room, the audience is assaulted by the pungent aroma of loam deriving from the mulch which covers almost the entire floor except for the seating area. The dancing begins with four performers moving along the walls and joining together in a dance reminiscent of spores fearfully tossed in a turbulent wind. The mulch is used to great effect as the dancers plow through it with their hands, and it flies through the air with every battement. An abrupt change in mood occurs when Emily German enters, adorned in a lace covered hoop skirt and carrying a parasol trailing strings of fabric in which she has snared two other dancers. The first four dancers scatter fearfully as German and her captives enter into a frantic trio. Though the two dancers, Baybutt and Bridget Gunning, try to find safety in the walls, German is intent on her prey and the drama ends when she eventually corners Gunning, enveloping her with her hoop skirt and suppressing her movements.
After German drags off her captive, the four dancers gather again into one final movement. This faster-paced quartet features some lovely partnering.  The four come together to make one pulsating organism only to break apart again to dance feverishly alone. After all four have collapsed along the walls, Baybutt picks up her lantern and smoothly guides the crowd back to the foyer, their journey in the underworld come to an end.
Overall, Manifold Motion’s performance is a wonderful example of the power of collaborative art. While the dancers showed great skill and athleticism, it was the synthesis of the strong choreography, original music, sculptural costuming, video imaging, and unique lighting that truly brought the production to life and succeeded in transporting the audience to an entirely different world.

Performances of Under continue Nov. 26-28. Shows begin at 7:00, 8:15, and 9:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, and at 6:00, 7:15, and 8:30 pm on Sunday. Tickets are on a sliding scale with a suggested rate of $18 and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. For more information visit