02/07/2014 by Stephen Silke
Kristopher Apple’s Palnj, his SDSU School of Music & Dance MA thesis performance, finds a progression of completeness that few modern performance art pieces achieve.
The five acts, listed sequentially, do a bit to describe themselves. They are titled “Bodies as Soundscape/Landscape”, “Fragility of the Line/Points Extending”, “Pendulum”, “Palnj” and “Sweep/Phrase Loops”. Taken together, they form a well-paced, ethereal progression through entropy to optimism.
In the first act, disassociated phrasing coalesces from a tube-shaped grouping of seven dancers then into a central tableau of somatic and verbal coils. This dissolves into flurries of overhead thrashing movements and the dancers improvise noises that mimic the white noise of self-talk. When a beam of applied light dances over the canvas of bodies on stage, drawn by theater artist Dan Allen, the combinated whole attains a heightened pathos. Performers pass quickly here and there before the light, syncopated to the music, and a kind of primitive animation occurs against the coils of lit up electronic art projected over them. All this lives in a stark monochromatic soundscape delivering a spartan, primitive atmosphere.
It’s described as generative dance, and depends on improvisational work from the dancers. They collaborate as the piece happens, so each performance will be different.
Energetic hops and armcurls connote a tribal instersice and the dancers exit back curtain under Apple’s live performance violin peals, finishing in a dramatic tone under expansive piano flourishes by composer Blair Robert Nelson.
In “Pendulum”, curtains open to display a full stage set with cubes as furniture. It initiates with all of the dancers on the far right lined up, but they move in patterns as if the entire stage is a synthesizer display perhaps representing “levels” on multiple channels. The sound poetry is striking, but at this point the repetition and frenetic pace of turns and misdirections creates a hasty breathlessness in the performers, communicating a thorough exhaustion akin to the performance of industrialized society.
The “mechanics” of the pendulum are displayed by progression from the tribal confusion of the first act into an organized mecho-somatic determination, something akin to Brave New World as communicated by dance. If taken as a microcosm of human history, three time periods in man’s development could match the three acts of the performance.
“Phrase Loops”, the final act, presents a stage with seven tableaus of stacked cubes where canned dance performance loops are projected. A microphone with a performer uttering the poetic rubric “take”, “tick”, and “tell” provides aural texture as the dancers negotiate spotlighted portions of the stage, mirroring each other’s gestures. Improvising mimetically, progressing, changing.
As the dancers move downstage, the repeated gesturing builds to weave into a coalescence of power. It could be interpreted as the gathering cultural accomplishments of our social milieu.
This third act is not the nihilistic dreck common in hollow avant-garde performance troupes. The body community represented in this work hints at a full-hearted dialectic striving toward wholeness. It’s optimism lifts, warms and sustains, and if considered as a whole alongside the two previous acts, the narrative–if the banality of suggesting that a narrative occurs is permitted in our age of oblique dance theory–is the wonder of a full-hearted humanistic optimism, gifting the audience a satisfaction in harmony and beauty in its dissonance.
The piece is written, choreographed and produced by Kristopher Apple. Accompaniment is by Blair Robert Nelson. Projection design by Dan Allen. Performers are: Kristopher Apple, Dan Allen, Jonathan Arreola, Emily Aust, Monica Baird, Anya Cloud, Lillian Elbaz, Blair Robert Nelson, and Charissa Noble.
Performances are limited: February 6, 7, & 8 at 7:30 p.m. at San Diego State University’s ENS 200 Studio Theater. Price: Free