CoDa takes show to MASS MoCA

On Wednesday and Thursday evening, MASS MoCA’s gallery of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings played host to LeWitticisms, a dynamic performance by the College’s dance group CoDa. The Williams College Museum of Art, which is currently exhibiting Sol LeWitt: The Well-Tempered Grid, partnered with CoDa and MASS MoCA to restage the performance from last April’s venue at CenterStage in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. In placing the dancers among the artwork they interpret, artistic directors Acting Chair and Resident in Dance Erica Dankmeyer ’91 and Visiting Artist in Residence Janine Parker extended the performance’s visual impact and symbolic depth. The result was a colorful and exciting journey through LeWitt’s conceptual and highly geometric work.

The audience, consisting of students, parents and community members alike, piled into the first gallery space to view the starting number, “Draftspeople,” from behind a row of columns in front of Wall Drawings 386 and 396. With brisk, tight movements, the dancers split into forms inspired by the gridded permutations of star shapes behind them. Choreographed by Dankmeyer and set to “Weather One” by Michael Gordon, “Draftspeople” expertly established the motivation for restaging in the gallery. The dancers, as viewed from behind columns, appeared as they would on the CenterStage, separate from the audience and with LeWitt’s work as a backdrop.

From this point, two dancers split the audience in half by beckoning with red and blue banners, which matched corresponding colors given to audience members. The audience was led into smaller gallery spaces and confronted with the dancers and artwork immediately in front of them in “Tilted Forms,” only to be whisked away to another space and another performance. As Dankmeyer writes in the program, “Just as dance is an ephemeral art form, LeWitt’s wall drawings are, sooner or later, painted over or removed.” In “Tilted Forms,” which Dankmeyer choreographed to the sound of “Passacaglia” by Caroline Shaw, the dancers stepped around each other, with their controlled movements building upon each other kaleidoscopically.

The audience members continued to the next space, finding themselves at opposite ends of a long corridor of multicolored squares, with dancers in between the two audience groups. Here, the performance of “Bach Flock,” choreographed by Parker to “Prelude No. 2, BWV 847” by Johann Sebastian Bach, had groups of dancers arranged at opposite ends, rapidly flying from one end to the other, shifting between groups like flocks of birds, creating emergent shapes and patterns.

Parker choreographed the next two pieces, “Grid” and “Con/Eccentric Isometric/lations,” which were performed in smaller, subdivided spaces, sometimes leaving little room for audience members. “Grid” had intense, writhing, full-bodied movement set to the up-tempo drums in “Cerulean Sea,” which was composed and performed by Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and David Torn. “Con/Eccentric Isometric/lations” contrasted with traditional ballet forms set to the music of “Prelude No. 3, BWV 848” by Bach. Nevertheless, they both enacted a loosening of symmetry, challenging the strictness and revealing the playfulness of LeWitt’s geometry.

For the solo “A Not-Straight Line” performed by Jennifer Law ’13, the two audience groups reconvened before a painting with waving bands of color. Choreographed by Dankmeyer, Law shuffled and hopped around the floor, peering at the audience and wall drawing alike to the contemplative “First Gamelan” of Suite for Violin, Piano and Small Orchestra by Lou Harrison. Engaging intimately with the audience, Law snapped instantaneously between expressions of embarrassment, glee and terror. Her rapid stepping and tumbling painted her “not-straight line” over the floor, as she curiously attacked and inspected the floor, her dress, the wall and the transfixed audience.

The previous musical piece continued through to the next space for “Coalescing.” In this performance, choreographed by Dankmeyer, a solitary dancer awakened the others lying in heap. Looking to each other and to the audience, they slowly circled each other, pointing with outstretched arms until they finally arriving back in another heap separate from another solitary dancer, achieving symmetry in concept as opposed to form.

In a distinct shift in music choice and tone, Law andGabrielle DiBenedetto ’16 performed an ecstatically warm duet to “At Last” by Harry Warren. In a dance vhoreographed by Niralee Shah ’12, DiBenedetto and Law leaped acrobatically together across the whole room. Beaming with energy, their performance was a marked contrast to the other more contemplative pieces.

The night concluded with “Splat,” choreographed by Dankmeyer and set once again to the atmospheric “Weather One” by Michael Gordon. The dancers jabbed their surroundings violently in a formation appearing to attack, only to be halted by the arrival of others waving multicolored banners. The new arrivals streamed between the original group, which continued to move in apparent slow motion, until the whole group abruptly drew together for a bow to end the show.

Restaging LeWitticisms at MASS MoCA was delightfully successful. Although the second half of the program, which would have featured work by composer and artist Tristan Perich, was canceled due to the harpsichordist’s travel being halted by Hurricane Sandy, CoDa’s performance stood on its own artistry. Each number brought a different energy and take on LeWitt’s concepts, enriching both performance and artwork. The dancers exhibited skillful nuance, draped in costume designs that deliberately took cues from the modernist’s work. The whole night was thoughtfully and deftly handled: This innovative collaboration took an already brilliant show to a new level of expertise and relevance.

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