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Alembic: JAZZ

Trading fours, doing the dozens, two-by-two. The most recent night of performance in PWNW’s Alembic series, JAZZ, duos, in between and overlapping curated by Seth Nehil moved from the choreographed (beginning with pre-recorded sound and video) to the furthest reaches of the improvisational. And further.

I’ll just type out the name of the first piece by Rebecca Steele and Posie Currin, and then you can forget it, because for the audience it had nothing to do with what happened in the performance: “Mr Suckit.” Okay. Jin Camou and Rebecca Steele, costumed alike and with exploding hair danced before a video projection that begins as a horizontal paint pour, color over color, like a kind of static but lovely. The two operated independently for most of the piece. Just as each appeared individually at moments moving in the video, on stage Steele moved jerkily if softly so, bringing to mind movement malfunction while Camou moved almost not at all at first then slowly entered a sculpturally tendrilled and tiny tent that she inhabited, animated, elevated, moving slowly and swingingly. The most arresting visual moment of the evening was when Camou as this kind of shamanic creature moved into the light of the video projection and suddenly was shot through with lines of vivid red paint. In this opposition between the centered movement (Camou) that approached the ritualistic as it literally entered the alternative space created for the body by and in this hole-y prop and the decentered, meandering movement (Steele), there was something interesting going on that came into focus a bit simply by being enacted in front of a video work that felt at times frantic…it’s if the two dancers represened alternative responses to this preexisting condition: one intentional, one reflexive. Currin’s great score (for solo violin and prerecorded soundscape) began with static and glitch overlayed with exploratory sound generated by her electrified violin and moved through moments of both abrasiveness and later, longing. Late in the work, Camou and Steele faced off, kneeling on the floor, connecting for the first time as hands mirror lovely hands. If a before, during, after was implied by the video and the jacket hanging stage left that appeared on one of the dancers in the video, it’s not entirely clear why, and whatever the title wanted to convey or make cohere remains an inside joke.

Can I say that two of my favorite moments of the night came at the transitions between performances, as Steele’s violin is met with John Niekrasz creating an insistent pulse, rolling ball bearings (and then more of them) round and round in a steel drum, or when Luke Wyland calls forth Johnson and Keogh at the end of Sporting’s set with handfuls of colorful bells sounding with heartbreaking clarity?

Sporting (Niekrasz and Wyland) came out swinging with a drum and keyboard assault that started outside and came in, cohering in a propulsive tsunami. Wyland and John are all in, with a kind of fierce, physical commitment that makes their set the cathartic, ground-clearing, ground zero of the night. The connection between Niekrasz and Wyland (and the sound that results) is more Fight Club than mindmeld–there is gauntlet throwing and knockingdowndoors&takingnames back and forth between them–and it is Good.

And finally, Oh ladies. Appearing to make it up as they went along, Kathleen Keogh and Sarah Johnson endearingly improvised a funny piece notable for its naked honesty about its construction. They talked between themselves, asked the audience what they should do next, explained why Johnson was on crutches (“I was runing with a cat and slipped in my socks on the stage” during the performance the night before), asked us to look at Facebook when we went home to see the rest of what went on backstage (“You’re all my friends on Facebook, right?”). We got to see the two fat guys on Johnson’s Mac desktop and help her choose music to play (AKON). She showed us a slide show of she and Keogh mugging for the camera. At one point the two were face-to-face and Johnson, who can’t help herself but quasi-narrate says, “Kathleen is teaching me about holding space.” If I was waiting for a moment that this would all cohere…that was probably it. And it dawns on the audience that whatever one’s waiting for is already happening. Pretty profound shit for an allovertheplace performance like this one. Regardless of how haphazard the performance was, there’s something interesting about drawing the audience in to be party to its making, inviting us into the studio as it were. Then the strength of the performance rests on the question of whether these two (and their ideas) are worth being in the studio with. I’m going to say yes, and not just because they made a cake.