Jodi Melnick, left, with Elena Demyanenko
Despite 40-plus years of watching dance, I’m usually perplexed by the works shown at EMPAC. I almost always walk away wondering “what the heck was that all about.” But I also find that these dances are imprinted in my memory. A naked man crawling into spaces too small for his frame, Frankenstein-like figures screaming in the faces and throwing balls at the audience and a quiet soloist whose repetitive hum was to lull the spectators to sleep.
What these pieces have in common is exploration with technology. And on Saturday afternoon, dancer/choreographer Elena Demyanenko and filmmaker Erika Mijlin once again fulfilled EMPAC’s reputation to baffle and provoke by offering a world premiere that resonates on a personal and societal plane.
Titled “echo/archive,” the dance with Demyanenko, Eva Karczag, Jodi Melnick and Dana Reitz uses moving cameras, screens, sounds and lights to amplifie and/or obscure. Through a series of solos and duets, the piece enlarges the movement with technology, showing angles the audience would not naturally see, by projecting them on slowly moving screens. Sometimes the images are doubled or are multiplied to infinity. At other times, the projections play with double exposures – two dancers not together on stage, but together on screen.
Still, at other moments, the stage is so dark, that only the screen – usually just a square of color like orange or blue – is the only thing that illuminates them. The point is that the screens serve to remind us that everything we do has a ripple effect, and that those ripples are memorialized in our being. They are there even when we can’t see them, even when we are not there.
But that is just the framework. “echo/archive” is really about relationships – the relationships between Demyanenko with Karczag, Melnick and Reitz. And how they are echoed and archived.
Before I go there, I want to applaud Demyanenko, a former Trisha Brown dancer, for pulling in Karczag, Melnick and Reitz for her work. These are three mature dancers with decades in the field of modern dance. They have always been explorers and it was wonderful to see them again. And while Demyanenko is younger, it’s clear that the trio challenges her physically.
With Karczag (also a former Brown dancer), Demyanenko is like a Tai Chi student, freeze-framing moments with Karczag’s solid but liquid support. These two are one like mother and child or master and mentor. But in the end, they face each other as if Demyanenko is fit to stand on her own.
Melnick, on the other hand, is a fireball. She alone commands the space as she kicks and spins slicing the space at astonishing speeds. With Demyanenko, the two are like a puzzle that snaps together and then springs apart. Melnick is the launch Demyanenko earns.
The ending with Reitz is more mysterious. Reitz floats, her arms and hand gestures are delicate and graceful. The two come together in an ever-shifting landscape of light that continually reveals and cloaks them.
As the scenarios unfold, the ubiquitous screens fade. What this says about aftereffects of our actions and relationships is uncertain? Maybe it’s a judgment on our screened obsessed society.
Regardless, in the end, Demyanenko is at peace; the audience, still pondering.