We’re used to viewing dance and theater in big spaces with depth, and we expect vertical leaps shooting into the air. But what if we swap out that lens for a wide zoom? We are rewarded with new perspective and intimacy in Body Without Body Within which Blythe Barton Dance presents in beautiful horizontal mode.
Barton assembles some of the best dancers in town and re-configures the White Box this weekend from a square to elongated galley shape. The transformation allows us to view three mesmerizing dances as landscapes yet sit within inches of the action.
The Body program, with a cast of five women and two men, opens with “In Turn,” a new work which Barton created as a canon, a form for taking turns, and to create patterns. We see leaders and followers, yet there is no narrative to worry about. Dancers in blue surge like ocean waves rolling in and out.
Men and women swing legs out of their hips to form three lines. A musical shift transports us to an exotic land. There a moments when they huddle and spiral outward, wobbling like fledgling birds with new feathers.
Barton is a favorite dancer in several companies, such as San Diego Dance Theater and Malashock Dance. She has been making big waves as a choreographer for her own company. At the International Fringe Festival 2015, she wowed audiences with Reverberate, a fully produced concert with live music by Neave Trio.
What audiences like most about her dances are athletic ensembles that break into duets. While she relies too heavily on handstands that pivot to get bodies into new places, she is a master at creating patterns and illusions. Even before the concert starts, we can appreciate her smart mind at work.
The Loneliest Sense, set to music by Damien Rice and others, is lyric driven, and conjures old lovers and regret. “If you must die…” sends men and women into arabesques that grow to angry bow and arrow extensions. While they are desperate for human contact, they turn away and fight for distance.
Costumes are faded tan, like a worn photo found in a drawer. While the women undulate in close fitting tanks, trunks, and sheer skirts, Bradley Lundberg and Nicholas Strasburg sweat through bulky cargo shorts. Sporty, surf shorts would be sleek and less distracting.
The high point of Loneliest comes at the end, down low on the Marley floor. Brittany Taylor dances into blinding side lights. She flitters as a moth, or silent film star, while the others worm about at her feet. There are brief moments when lyrics break the illusion. A duet with Cecily Holcombe and Lundberg is so gripping with their eyes locked on each other that Barton could make it a full evening. There are more couplings and acrobatic lifts, such as the limber Cara Steen rolling up and over Lundberg’s back.
As Barton looks forward to adding a baby to her family this spring, she restages a marvelous work about love and drama around a family table. She created Conversations at a Table for her senior thesis at Chapman University in 2004. While it is set to music by Radiohead, played by Vitamin String Quartet, costumes send us to great grandma’s house. Women wear simple white dresses that evoke hand sewn eyelet table cloths. The men are more formal in white shirts and suspenders.
One can’t help but insert narratives about family gatherings real or imagined. Dancers hide under a table until each summons the courage to dance on the edge of it. Barton is careful to keep gestures abstract.
At times women fidget like hens. Tension builds as dancers speed up and double time steps around the table.
The image of Strasburg pressed against the table, his head down and back flat, is especially striking as the archetype father, or perhaps a toddler, who can’t make sense of it all. We become part of that family. We hear breathing and are almost seated at the table. That proximity makes this masterful dance even more of a stunner.
Cecily Holcombe, Bradley Lundberg, Katie Lupke, Cara Steen, Nicholas Strasburg, Brittany Taylor, Chelsea Zeffiro.
Body Without / Body runs Friday, February 26, 8 PM; Saturday, February 27, 8 PM; Sunday, February 28, 6 PM
White Box Live Arts, 2590 Truxtun Road, Upstairs, San Diego, CA 92106
General Seating : $20; Senior/Student/Military : $15