ContemporaryDanceNew YorkPerformance ArtReview

Frantic Beauty – BAM Fisher, New York

Choreographers: Ximena Garnica & the LEIMAY Ensemble

Directors: Ximena Garnica & Shige Moriya

Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell

Brooklyn’s LEIMAY Foundation and Ensemble premiered their latest collaborative dance art creation, Frantic Beauty, at BAM’s Fisher Space this week. This new work, the third of a projected five parts in their BECOMING Series, uses carefully choreographed lighting paired with cycles of energetic and languid movement to explore the development of language and gesture

Frantic Beauty opens in near darkness, with the ensemble of dancers (Masanori Asahara, Krystel Copper, Derek DiMartini, Omer Ephron, Mario Galeano) leaping past a single, small, audience-directed light to create quick silhouettes. As the light shifts and widens, the dancers’ movements slow; the effect of the lights on haze effects creates the sense that the actors are wading though a thick liquid. In the next 75 minutes, the choreography shifts from highly vigorous and acrobatic to slow and sleepy. Each performer’s choreography is different and while they seldom interact or acknowledge one another, their awareness of one another’s space is evident in their actions. There’s frequent use of performer-generated sound; grunts, moans, screams, and speaking in tongues are as important a part of the score as composer Jeff Beal’s music. There’s not a single contained narrative in this work– watching it is more like watching a process of the discovery of speech and movement.

This process of discovery is central to LEIMAY’s BECOMING Series. A program note describes it as a “reflect[ion] on matter’s constant state of becoming through growth and decay, beginnings and endings.” The cyclical nature of Frantic Beauty’s choreography and lighting highlights the theme of beginnings and endings. In a post-show discussion on September 15, a neuroscientist on the panel commented that humans crave harmony and the asynchronous movements of the dancers naturally create a sense of unease for the audience. Indeed, the unrestrained individual vitality of the high-energy portions of the piece felt, as the title says, frantic. The languorous sequences of the performance balance the unease and allow the audience (and, no doubt, the performers) a chance to recover from the dissonance of the frantic work they follow. 

Frantic Beauty is a thoughtful piece of dance, but without Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya’s careful visual design, it would be incomplete. The lighting is such a vital part of the work that it feels like a sixth dancer. In the post-show discussion, Garnica commented that, “Light is another body for us.” While the choreography doesn’t always create beauty, that’s the point—watching someone learn to crawl or walk or jump or master verbal communication isn’t necessarily pretty, but it’s a vital part of becoming. The somnolent sections of the performance feel like the beauty that the dancers are frantic to achieve. All of this said, sightlines in BAM Fisher seemed not to have been carefully sussed out; when dancers were downstage, especially if they weren’t standing, they were often blocked by audience members’ heads. (Perhaps this was intentional, though—a means of highlighting how frantic we are to make sure we see everything?)

LEIMAY’s new work has a lot going for it. It’s visually stunning and certainly gives its audience a lot to contemplate and discuss. It’s not for everyone; the questions it poses are heady. Those looking for a light evening of escapism will want to steer clear, but audiences seeking serious food for thought will be pleased.

Reviewed on 15 September 2017 | Image: Jeremy Tressler

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