Last Thursday I spent an hour totally and utterly transfixed by water.
Emory Dance Department director Lori Teague premiered “Bend,” a multimedia dance concert, last week in Emory’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Art. “Bend,” performed in three consecutive shows on Thursday, was advertised by the Dance Department as a “dance for camera installation about our relationship to water.”
While that elusive description may leave much up for interpretation, that’s exactly how “Bend” needed to be experienced – with as little prior knowledge of the production as possible.
It’s simultaneously easy and nearly impossible to create a dance performance about water. The foundation of millions of life forms has endless definitions: life, cleansing, rebirth, purification; but those are well-known.
The real trick lies in making these meanings accessible – not to mention fresh and compelling – to an entire audience.
That’s where the multimedia part of the show came in. “Bend” utilized both live dancing and onscreen performances, the latter of which was created in collaboration with Teague’s husband, videographer Mark Teague.
The film portion of “Bend” began by presenting repetitive, hypnotic footage of a flowing river.
It then shifted to footage of Teague sitting absolutely motionless on a chair in the middle of the river, as water flowed past her. She gradually began rocking the chair, almost tipping it over. The image appeared tranquil and soothing, despite the actual danger of the act.
ic power of “Bend” – its ability to concurrently exhibit both the most spirited and the most treacherous characteristics of water.
An additional film clip featured Teague walking in a spellbound state into the river – as if committing suicide – only for her to turn around and stride across a path of rocks, where she suddenly seemed to be floating on the water, not sinking.
That kind of contrast was the cornerstone of the performance and precisely what made it so gripping to watch.
This is how dance on film should be used: to show dance in a way it can’t otherwise be shown, to bring in outside elements and present dance as it happens in those otherwise-inaccessible environments.
In a day and age where we’re constantly acquiring brand-new knowledge and aiming to break ground with that knowledge, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of gratuitously technological performances.
In this case, Teague created a dance that transpired in a river, an area where it would be impossible to have a live show, and brought that to life onscreen. The segment that undeniably left audiences talking afterwards, however, was an old-fashioned live routine that featured Teague, guest performer Dana Marie Lupton (who serves as artistic and executive director of Moving in the Spirit) and, arguably, the real stars of the show, two bowls filled to the brim with water.
Lupton and Teague took turns running, leaping, crawling and sliding towards the water but were consistently stopped by the other before they could reach the bowls.
The choreography, which consisted of both tremendously technical, demanding movements and delicate, understated sequences, was striking for its mesmerizing quality. In sections like this, Teague’s choreography possessed a tense, anticipation-filled quality.
After dozens of near-misses and hindrances from touching the water, Teague and Lupton were finally able to dip their hands into each of their bowls, soaking up the sensation, before forcing their hands in further and splashing the water all around.They then tipped the bowls over, poured every drop of water out and turned to walk offstage as if nothing had happened.
Though “Bend” may have been a bit too conceptual for a dance newcomer, those who arrived expecting a performance that would make them look at the world differently got just what they bargained for.
As the program notes read, “[Water] forces us to negotiate and relinquish control so we arrive in the middle of something that is reciprocally related to who we are.”
Teague certainly brought that notion to life. We see ourselves as both the ones manipulating the water and the beneficiaries of water’s effects, and we can use those effects to enjoy, fight, live, die, splash, kick, submerge and savor.
– By Emelia Fredlick