3rd Law Dance/Theater’s “Elision Project Vol. 1”
A review by Gwen Gray
The crowd at the Dairy Arts Center quiets. A young man appears on stage, barefooted, a headset microphone at his lips and a smartphone in his hand. He begins a monosyllabic a cappella chant, which expands into a rich, rhythmic hymn as he digitally loops and chains his own vocals together.
I can’t even pat my head and rub my belly at the same time, so this guy (vocalist Paul Fowler) is wowing me already. And I’m being carried away on waves of sound that are at once as despairing as Sarah McLachlan’s “Fumbling Toward Ecstasy” yet as uplifting as a church choir.
But I’m also wondering, “Where are the dancers?” There are none. At least, not until Fowler begins his second song, “Calling.”
What does it say that Katie Elliott and Jim LaVita, 3rd Law Dance/Theater’s artistic co-directors, chose to begin the landmark performance commemorating their 15th-anniversary season sans dancers?
I believe a clue exists in the title of the evening’s performance: “The Elision Project Vol. 1.” “Elision” means “the process of joining together or merging,” but the word also connotes a sense of omission, as when you join two words together (“let’s” for “let” and “us” or “there’s” for “there” and “is”).
Elliott and LaVita’s are seasoned and confident enough as artists to brave the truest expression of collaboration — that of elision. They know that to bring something new to light from a merging of multiple viewpoints is to also leave something out — to let go of a fixed idea, of expectations or ego, to allow something new in. That the freshest, most exciting ideas are born from a shared vision.
And new ideas were what the evening (April 2, 2016) was all about. The choreography responded to a score from three very different sets of composers — the aforementioned solo vocals of Paul Fowler; the computerized sounds and analog manipulations of Darwin Grosse with Gregory Taylor; and Boulder Bach Festival’s artistic director Zachary Carrettin’s electric violin pieces — all of whom performed live on stage. Though the music diverged in as many directions as numbers on the program, the resulting dances merged around some common themes: Light requires the presence of dark. We must collapse to rise again. Flatten to swell. Destruct to create. Exhale to inhale.
Take “Calling,” in which the music explores what physically happens in the body when when you cry out with your voice. The dancers sank low into plié, jogged in place and audibly exhaled before bursting into effortlessly powerful spins and whirls.
And while Darwin Grosse generated chime-like vibrations from his digital station at stage left, dancers Jennifer DePalo-Peterson and Michelle Pugh joined center stage and melted into arabesque en plié together, and, as if moving through honey, pushed and balanced against one other, exploring their union and dissolution.
The freshness of the dancer-composer collaboration was especially apparent during Grosse’s musical piece, “Kecepatan Rumor,” in which Fowler and Carrettin joined Grosse onstage, and the dancers improvised, resulting in exciting moments in which one dancer’s shoulders roiled in snake-like convulsions while another made herself small against the floor amid the momentarily timid strains of Carrettin’s violin.
It was Carrettin and his rapturous violin playing — favorites with 3rd Law audiences since he co-created and performed in the company’s well-received “Obstinate Pearl” and “Bach Uncaged” works — who closed the show Saturday evening. As his original composition “Take to Light” rang out, a wall of dancers were illuminated, clinging to one another, balancing at the edge of an invisible precipice. The always-spellbinding Jamie Melaragno ventured forth alone, unfurling in developé and stepping into the unknown expanse of the dance floor, Carrettin’s violin trilling and sliding as she explored and then returned to the other dancers to share her discoveries — a fitting encapsulation of what it is like to observe this kind of innovative dance theater.
Now I’m left to wonder: Will there be an “Elision Project Vol. 2”? We’ll wait. And hope.
Photography Credit: Heather Gray Photography & Annabelle Denmark