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It looks almost as if they are flying. The dancers silently shift and swirl in the air over the Garde Arts Center stage. They hang and entwine in the silks that dangle from the rigging above.
One performer lifts and turns himself upsidedown with graceful ease. Another climbs the silks, using hands and feet to defy gravity. Another stands on the ground and spreads the fabric, spinning until the black silk billows like a tornado.
The dancers are gearing up to work on a piece while leader Alison Chase and a couple of collaborators talk about technical aspects of the show, including projections and live feeds. Then they segue into rehearsing "Star Cross'd," where two performers ascend the silks and fairly float in the air, reaching toward each other in a dance piece that echoes "Romeo and Juliet."
These folks are from Alison Chase/Performance, an esteemed dance company that spent this week working at the Garde and will return for another week in late March.
It's all part of a new partnership between the New London theater and the performance troupe that fuses dance, film and music.
Chase herself has a long, storied history in dance. This choreographer, director and theatrical artist co-founded Pilobolus and Momix, both ground-breaking dance companies.
The company's presence in New London grew out of a conversation that happened when an Alison Chase/Performance board member met Steve and Jeanne Sigel of the Garde. Chase then contacted the theater, and Steve Sigel, the Garde's executive director, says, "When someone that talented says they want to use your city and your space if possible to develop new work, you really try hard to make it happen."
In fact, this may be a harbinger of things to come. Sigel anticipates the Garde could be used more in the future as a place for various groups to develop new work.
Chase says that having time to work in an actual theater is vital for her company's dancers.
"When we remount this suspended work, we can't do that in a regular dance studio. We need someplace that has the same height we perform at so the dancers get used to it," Chase says. "When we found out we could suspend, that we could film, that we could project, it was great - to have an incubator like this is just out of the ordinary."
In addition, the Garde is a convenient central location for the people involved with the production. Chase lives in Maine, the dancers are in New York City, and most of the other collaborators reside in Connecticut.
The company's time at the Garde culminates in an informal performance for an invited audience at 5:30 p.m. March 29.
Beyond that, Alison Chase/Performance will present a fully staged production during the Garde's 2013-14 season.
For now, though, they are at the Garde remounting two existing performance pieces and developing two new works. (The Garde's tech staff helped out, doing such things as installing the silks and working on the lighting.)
The former are the aforementioned "Star Cross'd" and another piece that involves suspension. "Ben's Admonitionis" deals with confinement; it opens with two men suspended by their ankles in a cell. The performance explores the tension and dynamics that such proximity can engender.
The new works, meanwhile, are "Counterpoise," with an original score performed live by violinist/composer Rob Flax, and "Drowned," loosely based on a Gabriel García Márquez short story in which village girls find a body on the beach.
Working with Alice Chase/Performance on "Drowned" are photographer Sean Kernan, whose work has been featured in exhibitions at the Whitney Museum in New York and the Centre Regional de la Photographie in France; and cinematographer and video editor Derek Dudek, who was a director of photography for MTV, music videos, and "Law & Order."
"Drowned" is a film and dance piece - which is part of the reason the troupe is working on it at the Garde. It needs the technical facilities that a place like the Garde can provide.
It is, Chase says, a very layered production, with projected imagery, music and live theater/dance. That makes for a time-consuming process; sometimes, they have to refilm, reedit and rescore.
"We're always looking for creative incubators where we could come and sit and figure all this stuff out," Chase says. "Then, we have to seam it together."