Whether new or experienced in the dance world, consider checking out dance/art installation at least once; these events can nurture critical thinking in a way that the anonymous audience member will never experience. Bordering performance art and gallery exhibition, dance/art installations can force the casual observer out of his or her comfort zone. If one clings to the notion that dance only happens in the setting of a darkened theater, an installation piece can feel like a shock to the system. These events can be telling of the fourth wall’s necessity or can point out the fourth wall’s rigid boundaries and limitations.
The fourth wall came crashing down at The New Animals’ Ego Dismantled on Wednesday evening, May 28, at TMRW Party. This mashup of dance, industrial fashion, and art installation featuring multiple Cornish graduates delivered an evening of “destruction and decay” as well as “solace and calm.” Viewers were invited to come and go as they pleased. The evening didn’t tell a dynamic story upon first glance; it required the viewer to stop and take a closer look. Each individual’s experience as an audience member was dependent on his or her willingness to sit still and desire to interact with the dancers. Spontaneous and authentic gems emerged in the finest performer/attendee interactions.
There was an exciting feeling of exclusivity in the air. Finding the venue, cryptically listed as located “on the Pike Pine Corridor,” was an adventure in itself. The entrance was through the doors for Sweatbox Yoga, and a tiny, hand-written note pinned to the wall directed attendees down a hallway; like a speakeasy for modern dance. After wandering down the hall, finally entering the space felt like discovering a secret garden of texture and color.
Under the direction of The New Animals’ Artistic Director Markeith Wiley, a team of designers had transformed the space into a creative playground for the dancers to explore. Each dancer inhabited a distinct area, which came with its own costume and theme. The themes (designed by Charles Spitzack, Estee Clifford, Eric Eugene Aguilar, Pia Johns and Sean B. Cormack) were as follows: a dancer entangled in yarn (Ryan Vinson); a dancer in world of splintered wood which hung from the ceiling, as well as from his body (Georgio-Armani Pacheco); a dancer in a tutu of fresh-cut flowers and grass with a stage of dirt (Victoria Jacobs); a dancer with a larger-than-life amount of hair who drank wine in the kitchen area (Sarah Lustbader); and a dancer whose tulle skirt was constantly in danger of being torn by a thorny plant (Melanie Ann). Dried, thorny plants hanging from the ceiling and wrapped in white gauze framed Ann’s costume. She would approach audience members and say she needed their help in preventing the prickly plant from snagging her skirt.
Ego Dismantled created a potent, immersive experience in an intimate, gallery-like space. Like the electronic music that bathed the room in monotonous sound, the improvised movement was open and general, too—each landscape beckoned the audience, but never became fully immersive or overly demanding of attention. It felt like exploring interactive exhibits at a science center. Attendees were allowed to chat, often boisterously, as well as drink beer and take cell phone photos. Sometimes the performers saw one another, at other times, they did not. More clarity and structure focus-wise could have helped create a greater throughline in the evening. The dancers interacted with the audience just as the Facebook event page had explained:
We might ask for your help…
You can touch, just please be gentle.
We cannot help you but you can help yourself.
About an hour into the evening, the attendees were interacting with the dancers in a variety of ways; one person actually cut the hair off of Lustbader’s monstrous wig. Lustbader then helped the woman fashion the fake locks to the attendee’s hair. Meanwhile, Jacobs looked like an ethereal creature straight out of Miyazaki film with Princess-Mononoke-style body paint. One attendee created a little mound of dirt with a petal or two pressed into it; this seemed to excite Jacobs, who trembled with delight, dropping foliage from her costume in the process.
While the audience was enthusiastic and diverse, Ego Dismantled felt a bit like a deluxe treat for the dance community (created by…the exact same dance community); the line between audience member and performer began to blur—this was both beautiful and powerful, but potentially problematic for speaking to those outside of the niche. However, The New Animals is a significant player in the dance community, and, as such, should continue to challenge itself with new projects and alternative formats. Ego Dismantled fit the bill for this exciting group on the rise. It will be fascinating to see what a talent such as Wiley chooses to pursue next.
Learn more about The New Animals at thenewanimals.org.