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Technology connects us, and still leaves us isolated. We are told that we can “have it all” and are fed idealized images of what our lives should look like, when in truth these outcomes are unrealistic. Split Bill: SZALT & Lavinia Vago at Velocity Dance Center uses a woman-centered cast to explore these disconnects and critique systems of control.

Lavinia Vago. Photo by Nikita Zhukovskiy.

The stage at Velocity has no curtain, and we enter to find NOESIS X creator Lavinia Vago naked, in a lunge at center stage. Two digital clocks loom in the back, one counting up, one counting down to performance time. Vago lunges, one arm outstretched, for 30 minutes straight. She’s silent, stoic, but her body struggles—her lungs heave, her muscles spasm, her legs shake.

When the timer beeps, she steps upright, rolling her wrist, and walks to a coat rack, on which hangs a maroon blazer. She puts on underwear, socks, matching maroon pants, and the jacket.  Then she walks haltingly around the perimeter of the stage—past co-creator Haral Stojan performing from a soundboard and laptop, past a book hanging from the rafters by a string—as if exploring her confines.

Initially, Vago’s movements tether to Stojan’s shifting sound. As he presses a key, her joints swivel; as she crouches, he turns a knob. These soft opening moments establish their relationship—one of control, of synchronicity. You sense that one cannot act without the other.

Their softness dissolves as Stojan increases the volume to a grating level and Vago’s movements become frenetic. Her mouth grins abruptly, falling slack an instant later. Her hand whips up to cover her face, and then drops. Her body crashes to the floor, bouncing, recoiling, springing back up.

At one point Stojan abandons his sound table, strides across the stage, and disappears. Vago continues dancing, and their relationship suddenly seems one of puppetry rather than mutual synchronicity. As if he can set and forget the music for a moment, but her body must crash on into fatigue. Vago removes one of her socks and blindfolds herself with it. We can’t tell, for a moment, if she’s sobbing. But then she’s laughing, an unsettling laugh, as uncanny as her flashes of bared teeth.

SZALT’s moon&. Photo by Stephanie Zaletel.

It’s a final collapse after being pushed to a breaking point. Vago has stopped paying attention to time. Her blazer has come off. She no longer rebounds from the floor. The piece speaks to how we can be controlled by our environment, how we perform constantly, how we fit ourselves painfully into confines of time and space and clothing and if pushed too far, if constrained too much, we break down.

SZALT’s moon& also delved into power dynamics and social influences, challenging expectations about performance. SZALT is a Los Angeles-based company featuring six dancers whose motions echoed, twisted and refracted as they moved through Stephanie Zaletel’s choreography.

Just as patterns begin to emerge in the choreography and the the cyborg-like music (composed and performed by Louis Lopez and Jonathan Snipes), one dancer, Amir Rappaport, collapses. The other dancers rush to her aid, calling for the house lights. For a split second, jarred out of the normal rhythm of performance, exposed by fluorescents, it seems something is truly wrong. Rappaport lies comatose as the rest of the cast attempts to rouse her, hauling her upright. Her eyes vacant, muscles slack, her body is manipulated into a backbend. They lift her hips, and her head drapes toward the floor in a wheel pose. Voices clamour the whole time (imperatives like “move this foot,” “good, just like that,” “now push down here,” “doing great, yep, keeping going”), a caricature of misguided encouragement, of over-control.

Two dancers tangle in a circular arena of light. Their doubles, in the shadows, remove gauzy white tops and shorts and slacken into one another. A trumpet bleats in a landscape of grinding noise. Sound clips of the space shuttle Endeavor are interrupted with radio static, interference. A body falls face-first, only to be caught by the forehead in another’s hands. A few dancers count out loud. One jogs over to Zaletel, and they converse in whispers. It’s as if we can hear many channels at once, and see many impulses and mechanisms that are generally hidden—hostility, gentleness, hunger, apathy.

Out of the twisting forms of the dancers, Rappaport returns, alive and vibrant again. She speaks Hebrew words from a classic Israeli children’s book while her body undulates and pulses. Eventually, alone and of her own power this time, she bends into the same wheel pose her limp body had been prodded into earlier in the piece. If the first wheel pose represents the normally-invisible forces and influences that dictate our actions, is the second version a glimpse of an empowered woman acting by choice, where the first is coerced and compulsory? Or is the second wheel simply the outside view that most of us see, regardless of the forces at play behind the scenes?

SZALT’s moon&. Photo by Becca Green.

Either way, the piece requires that we take a step back from what is first seen. moon& invites us to peer into the gloom around the edges, and to allow for jarring complexity behind someone’s exterior—particularly a woman’s. Overstimulating, anxiety-producing, and ambiguous, moon& is magnetic and fascinating.

The evening left me critical of the insidious and invisible systems that require certain performances of women. NOESIS X and moon& fit well on the program together, and both explored subconscious exhaustion and overwhelm caused by artificial parameters for behavior and being. As feminism, self care, and even vulnerability become buzzwords rather than actual practices, this program may inspire us to cease requiring a performance of wholeness but to accept a state of desperation, fatigue, and apathy. To see where pressure is building before an explosion. To identify a crack before the glass shatters.

Split Bill: SZALT & Lavinia Vago appeared February 21-24, 2019 at Velocity Dance Center. More info HERE.