Friday, October 15, 2010

Dark Matters

Earlier this evening, Doug and I were guests of my friend Brian to a truly mesmerizing dance performance at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

The performance, by the Kidd Pivot Frankfurt Rm dance company, was choreographed by Crystal Pite and entitled Dark Matters. It was a haunting exploration of the often unknown forces at play in the creative process . . . and in human relationships. Its combination of movement, music, spoken word, and set design was quite breathtaking.

The program booklet for the performance notes that:

The title refers both to astrophysics and human impulses, exploring the idea of undetectable forces at work in cosmology. This stunning theatrical hybrid of puppetry and dance opens as a sinister fable in which an artist creates a puppet with fateful results, and culminates in electrifying contemporary ballet. Pite’s choreographic language—edgy, gorgeously fluid—shows the influence of years dancing with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, but is seasoned with her own humor, intelligence, and intensity.

Pite is comfortable living with the idea that most of everything is unknowable. For her inventive mind, there is an obvious connection between the mystery of the universe and her creative process.

Following is a YouTube clip composed of scenes from Dark Matters. It's followed by excerpts from various reviews that I've found on the Web of this must-see performance. If you're in the Twin Cities, Dark Matters is playing for one more night at the Walker — tomorrow, Saturday, October 16. I definitely recommend you make the effort to see it. You won't be disappointed.

[Crystal Pite's] new work is called Dark Matters which is both a reference to the dark matter theorized by physicists and the darker matters that drive everyone. Pite visualizes dark matter in the idea of the shadow, that part of us composed of instinct and intuition.

In her choreographic notes, Pite [pictured at right] says that “a shadow does not walk, it slides silently with us in perfect unison, dimensionally translated, effortless and benign.”

For Pite, the shadow is a way of giving form to the unknown and making it dance. On stage, she does that visually by using puppets and puppeteers. Act 1 of Dark Matters explores creation and destruction through a theatrical fable involving players manipulated by anonymous controllers. The revelations in Act I inform the dancing in Act II.

“The puppeteers are dressed in black costumes with hoods and no faces – they’re in the shadows. The puppet is totally visible, made out of cardboard and glue. It is visible, dances and moves and has this incredible grace,” Pite said.

“We have these shadowy puppeteers and they’re really a great metaphor for dark matter in the sense of being manipulated and moved by something unseen and unknown.”

– Kevin Griffin
Crystal Pite Dives Into the Unknown to Create Dark Matters
The Vancouver Sun
February 25, 2010

Dark Matters is in two quite discrete sections. The work opens with a man hunched over a table making something. It turns out to be a marionette, which is then manipulated by a number of people dressed all in black who also double as stage hands moving props and set when required. The marionette eventually turns on his maker, stabs him and proceeds to demolish the set.

The second part is more ‘dancerly’ in a conventional sense, and the six dancers of Kidd Pivot are remarkable movers. They have beautifully fluid bodies and they connect with each other seamlessly. Pite is skilled too at arranging her dancers in the space of the stage to create haunting images of bodies meeting, communicating and parting. An absorbing duet . . . closes the work.

– Michelle Potter
Dark Matters: Crystal Pite and Kidd Pivot Frankfurt RM
Michelle Potter on Dancing
January 25, 2010

Like most of Pite’s works, Dark Matters has a strong theatrical component, but here she does something unusual and interesting with it: she divides the show in two parts of about 40 minutes each, the first being almost exclusively theatrical, and the second, barely. Though the first half is entertaining, Pite is much more in her element in the second half.

Backed with a large set for a dance show, the first half introduces us to an inventor submerged in a world of shadows as he creates a marionette. The music is reminiscent of a film score (a bit over the top) and even the numerous lighting fade-ins and fade-outs have a cinematic quality about them. His Pinocchio quickly turns into a Frankenstein and just as we wonder whether Pite is serious or not, she pushes everything over the edge and it becomes clear that she’s having fun. Before this section is over, we have also gotten a taste of The Matrix and The Phantom of the Opera.

After the intermission, there is no longer any trace of the set. While all the performers but the inventor were covered in black from head to toe in the first part, they now come out wearing plain but colorful clothes. The dance begins.

The choreography is typical Pite. The dancers get in formations where they are all touching before breaking away from each other as the movement carries them across the stage. Despite their broken down postures, the movement remains highly fluid. The choreography demands that the dancers extend into space, their limbs stretching out as far as they can, as if the body has become too small for the life it contains. In this vein, dancer Jermaine Spivey [opening image] is phenomenal.

The choreography gains in complexity as the movement of the dancers intersect. When it comes to dance, Pite doesn’t take the easy way out. The movement has a complex progression, never going where one would expect it to naturally go. The fluidity is not in the movement itself, which is often fragmented, but in its execution.

– Sylvain Verstricht

The most audacious thing Pite does in Dark Matters may be to cleave her show into two separate parts. The first half is what she calls a “theatrical fable”: a story about a person who creates a puppet that consumes him. The second act is pure dance, playing off the lessons from the first half, drawing on the broken-down movement of marionettes. It’s fragmented, but expect the kind of fast, electric choreography that could rival the athleticism and kinetic spectacle of anything on view on the surrounding rinks and slopes at the Winter Games.

Splitting Dark Matters in two was bold, but it marked a creative breakthrough in one of those harrowing sessions crafting the work.

“For a long time I was trying to make a show that didn’t have a break in it, and I finally decided I had to break it, and not just for the audience. It had to snap!” [Pite] recounts. “I care so much about transitions, and I spend so much time trying to make them work. I had spent all this time trying to make it all flow together, and suddenly it all made sense. That was a huge moment.”

The resulting show is surreal and theatrical. It’s exactly the kind of work Pite feels the freedom to do with Kidd Pivot — work that pushes far beyond the more dance-based choreography she’s invited to do at companies around the world.

– Janet Smith
Crystal Pite Pays the Puppetmaster in Dark Matters
February 18, 2010

In Dark Matters . . . [Crystal Pite] aims to share . . . feelings of uncertainty. The title references the “dark matter” that physicists now believe accounts for 80 percent of all matter in the universe. Yet beyond that, this spectacle is “about creating something that ultimately destroys you, and consumes you, and obsesses you and drives you crazy,” Pite says.

The Canadian choreographer, a veteran of William Forsythe’s celebrated Ballett Frankfurt, where she danced from 1996-2001, has contrived a spooky, evening-length fable that is a metaphor for choreography and for dancing itself. Act One of Dark Matters features a puppet and its maker, and hooded agents of chaos who manipulate the action and tear apart the set. Starting afresh, in Act II, dancers translate the work’s themes into pure movement — images that suggest explosions and crumbling façades.

“The main theme of the work is my own experience of what it feels like to create something,” Pite explains. “To be able to create, I have to accept the unknown. I have to embrace doubt and accept the presence of shadow.

“It’s really a very personal story,” she says, “However, those things apply to everybody.”

Viewers may be tempted to see an apocalypse in Dark Matters. A disembodied voice reads Voltaire’s “Poem on the Lisbon Disaster,” recalling the devastation wrought by a major earthquake in 1755. Yet all the shaking that takes place comes as Pite wrestles with the nature of her art. A second theme of this work is evanescence.

“Everything that we do as dancers, as choreographers, is created and destroyed in the same moment,” says Pite, now 39, who recalls her sense of loss when her mentors at Ballett Frankfurt began to retire from performing. “I had nothing to hang on to, other than memories,” she says, describing the experience of watching brilliant dancers like Christine Burkle and Jacobo Godani “almost in a state of vanishing.”

– Robert Johnson
A Look at the Ephemeral Nature of Dance
The Star-Ledger
October 15, 2010

The final duet is sublime in its simplicity. It is the paring down of all that came before. It is two bodies, two souls really, communing. Our hero/puppet creator is back, guiding and allowing himself to be guided. Power gently shifts back and forth. It is mutual curiosity and discovery, this time without the childlike irresponsibility.

– Penelope
Why Does Dark Matter?
Walker Art Center Blog
October 15, 2010

Above: Pictured at right with Doug and Brian at the performance earlier this evening
of Dark Matters at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.
Thanks, Brian, for a fantastic night of dance!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
The Dancer and the Dance
The Premise of All Forms of Dance
Recovering the Queer Artistic Heritage
Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake
An Ideal Vision
Scaling the Heights
Oh! What’s This, Then?
Whimsical and Edgy
Istanbul (Part 4): The Köçek Dancers
Love, Equality and the Rumba
Oh, Yeah!

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