April 14th, “Still Life No. 8” Edge Residency 2018

Choreography by Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg

I’ve written about Simpson and Stulberg’s work for years and always look forward to a display of small quick gestures that play with sound, space, and sight that contain surprises of unusual directions, gestures, and glances. The audience on Saturday, April 14th seemed much less familiar with their work. I noticed short bursts of laughter and gasps from the audience, which encouraged me to experience “Still Life No. 8” on its own, as something new.

Simpson and Stulberg did not reveal which still life painting from the de Young Museum this movement study is based on. Instead, they wrote: “The eighth work in our series, this dance acknowledges the labor and life of the table and performers.” Multiple forms of labor were clearly articulated as the dancers kept pushing an industrial looking table (designed by Giacomo Castagnola) into different positions around the stage, locking and unlocking its wheels. As the trio of dancers worked (and danced), they kept checking in with each other with simple phrases like “yep” and “ok.” Their costumes looked like uniforms and they seemed concerned with getting “it” just right. 

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“Still Life No. 8,” Simpson/Stulberg Collaborations, Counterpulse 2018 (Photo by M.LaVigne)

The zig-zagging movements of dancers on the top, bottom, middle, and sides of the table created moments of tension and surprise. They slid across the table’s surfaces, stopping just as it seemed they might slide off the edge. When the table was turned on its side, they used the sides as walls or screens, moving in and out of them to create a dynamic tableau. The first and last sections had no music, which amplified the labor of the body on, off, and with the table as well as the verbal recognition of that labor between the dancers. The only part with music was the middle section; it was “danced” by the table. Arletta Anderson could barely be seen underneath the table as she moved it across the stage – another nod toward the labor that goes unseen or unacknowledged.

I never quite figured out the end goal; what were the dancers working to achieve? It occurred to me that perhaps that was the point or rather question. What are we trying to achieve with all of our multiple forms of labor? What do we take for granted in those labors (like a table)? What kind of connections do we make or break while we labor?

Like “Still Life No’s 1-6,” I left the theater with a little grin. This time I was delighted by the experience of seeing a table “dance” and by the gasps and laughter from the audience. Simpson and Stulberg have a unique ability to play with incongruity that is insightful as well as humorous. “Still Life No. 8 ” found movements to show us how the unnoticed  – like a table – often get missed in the labor of living. I wonder what will be on display in “Still Life No. 7” April 28th and 29th? Come join me to find out!

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