Illusion and bedrock

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  August 27, 2007

She dreams a relentless, increasingly surrealistic panorama of memory and rumor that begins with people emerging from the wagon bed and running every which way into the woods. The sleeping woman (played by Haigood) relives a slave auction when she was separated from her mother. She imagines a carnival contest between the successful black dancer Master Juba and a mocking imitator in blackface, Tom “Jim Crow” Rice. The slave owner seduces his defenseless black servants, and his wife cracks a whip in a terrifying fit of rage. Many of these scenes are enacted on the roof of the barn, in a glare of white light. The characters climb up ladders to get there, and they hang upside down when they’ve been caught.

Throughout all this, there’s singing by Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir of San Francisco. Sometimes I found their drawn-out spirituals and upbeat songs set to Afro-rock drumming a distraction from the dramatic spectacle. Sometimes I could only imagine the night whispers of those tense, gloomy woods. Diane Ferlatte tells several meandering stories about mythical heroes and desperate journeys. I think these tales are meant to sew together the dramatized scenes, but, like the music, the narrative material is so extended, it undercuts the strong action of Haigood’s Zaccho Dance Theater.

The story, or the dream, ascends to a spiritual release as the singers and dancers join in a stamping, ecstatic ring shout and Haigood flies calmly through the air over the barn, free at last.

Levitation of a different kind made an appearance in Bridgman/Packer Dance’s “Trilogy” during next-to-last weekend of the Jacob’s Pillow season. The company from New York performed its “video-illusion” dances Seductive Reasoning, Memory Bank, and Under the Skin in the Doris Duke Studio Theatre. (CRASHarts will present the same works in December at the Institute for Contemporary Art.) Over the past four years, dancers Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer have teamed up with videographers Jim Monroe and Peter Bobrow and composers Robert Een, Glen Velez, and Ken Field to create the three essays in visual and psychological dislocation.

All three dances played with life-size projections of the dancers, either pre-recorded or in electronically modified live action. The projected material was of such high definition that it blended perfectly with the real dancers to create a moving trompe-l’oeil. All three pieces rang changes on this confusion. The dancers acquired alter egos and multiplied into a quartet, then a sextet. They played baffling games of hide-and-seek. They exchanged body parts. They shrank and grew larger. From time to time, tiny Arts and Myrnas floated down and bounced up in a black void.

Although the projection idea grew a bit thin over the course of the pieces, the music, played live with recorded augmentation by the three composers, added three completely different textures to the work. Een’s cello and vocalizing, Velez’s virtuosic rhythms on several different frame drums, and Field’s post-bebop saxophone were distinctive, and also possibly influenced by one another.

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