Constructing Life Among Art: Karen Stokes Dance Premieres Multi-layered Work at MATCH

Photo by Lynn Lane

Imagine a world so largely consumed by art that people move among masterpieces as mere ants in nature.

There is an intimate connection between creative forms of expression, as well as art and our everyday existence that choreographer Karen Stokes explores in her latest work, “Gallery Construction.” By turning stationary creations into an intriguing and sometimes amusing work that lives and breathes through movement, she captures the power of an artist’s perception to both influence one’s actions and reign over one’s thoughts.

The hour-long, multimedia performance features seven short video clips followed by seven live dances, each reflecting an essence of the films that were previously produced in response to seven gallery installations from 2011 to 2017.

Four artists of Karen Stokes Dance – clad in navy blue jumpsuits akin to those of a mechanic and unusually paired rainbow-striped beanies – quietly commenced the piece as audience members continued to fill the small theater, chattering among themselves. Eyes straightforward, the dancers walked somewhat robotically through six sheer drapes, elegantly hanging from the ceiling in two rows of three, until they found a place to perch on one of six white benches, their hands placed flat on their thighs.

Photo by Lynn Lane

The experience in its entirety was intimate, a single row of chairs resting on either side of the room and two screens hanging on walls perpendicular to the audience. At times, the videos would’ve made a greater impact positioned directly behind the performers to add more cohesion in the concept and more clearly show how the dancers emulated movements of those in the clips with each exhibit – “Plexus No. 9” by Gabriel Dawe, “Crafta” by Tanya Aguiñiga, “Tie Breaker” by Roberta Stokes, “reverse volume” by Yasuaki Onishi, “Unwoven Light” by Soo Sunny Park, “Intersections” by Anila Quayyum Agha and “The Great Cape Rinderhorn” by Thornsten Brinkmann.

Eventually settling on two benches in the center of the room, the couples, sitting back to back, ran through a series of quick hand sequences that were eye-catching although not entirely in sync. As they began to consume more space, they shuddered the heels of their feet or rotated their toes in and out, playfully moving back and forth through the drapes. This high-spirited energy remained throughout the first few sections of the piece, which featured upbeat music from a fiery tango to a youthful circus-themed tune, and matched the mood of the artwork’s vibrant designs.

What followed was a second half that was quite different. Sans intermission, the aura of the piece became calmer, reflected in an onstage costume change in which the dancers revealed white garments underneath the dark jumpsuits. Their movements were smoother, the richly colored lighting appeared softer, and the music sounded more peaceful.

Photo by Lynn Lane

Instead of dancing with art, the company members danced in, underneath and around it. From Onishi’s floating, mountainous form and Park’s hanging Plexiglas sculpture to Agha’s illuminated cube and Brinkmann’s unkempt room, the dancers seemed empowered by the magnitude of each work, and it was easy to feel inspired, especially by the first three.

One particularly moving moment came to life on screen – a duet between two men around a metal fixture suspended in the center of a room. As they seamlessly flowed through the choreography, cutouts in the cube casted incredibly intricate and shadowy patterns – like those of a kaleidoscope – on the walls, ceiling and floor.

It is a breathtaking vision that went too soon, the last piece reverting to a witty disposition similar to those in the first half. A dancer dumped a trashcan of clothing in the middle of the room, mirroring the disheveled space in the video. Sorting through them, she created a circle, inside of which the four artists took turns trying to impress the audience, while four other people drew the outermost drapes up and back – a stunning addition that expanded the space.

The excitement continued, but the dancers ultimately became overwhelmed by it all, throwing the clothes in the air and suddenly collapsing among them. The evening itself was similarly overwhelming with disparity in the selected works of art, as well as the style of music and movement, but it was satisfying nonetheless to experience such a range of artistry in one place at one time.

 

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