Monday, March 11, 2019

Light and Dark and Bright and Shadow

Anna Krupp and David Rue in Ella Mahler's "Here" at Velocity Dance Center
photo @ Steve Mahler

Ella Mahler’s new evening length work “Here.” begins with a percussive thwack and a jolt of bright light. What follows is a fascinating exploration of dualities: black and white, shadow and light, balance and instability, duos and individuals, togetherness and separation.

Dancers Anna Krupp and David Rue embody the dualities: she has white skin, he has black skin. They both are dressed in black pants, shirts and shoes and perform on a gleaming white floor against a white backdrop. 

After the thwack and the jolt, Krupp and Rue enter Velocity’s Founder’s Theater to Dustin Mahler’s score, and, in unison, walk, lunge and jump their way across the floor, almost constantly in tandem. Timing is critical as they raise their arms, legs and feet simultaneously. Even their hips or elbows jut out in sharp angles at the same moments. As Mahler’s electronic accompaniment builds in tempo, the dancers up their speed, running in diagonal lines across the floor, jumping from side to side like moguls skiers, dropping supine to the floor then rising up to continue their synchronous circuits, finally exiting the room. Together.
Krupp and Rue sway like sea creatures in "Here"
photo @ Steve Mahler

The music shifts, and Rue returns alone, performing a solo notable for the way his entire body is engaged; his arms bend at the elbows, and he extends his fingers, bends his knees, sinking down into a lunge then propelling himself back up as if he is a tightly coiled spring. Krupp rejoins him, and some of the spring's tension eases; they stand together, swaying gently like sea plants being stroked by the water’s current.

Mahler writes in the program that she is exploring the ways we “perceive and experience the world through examining the capacities of movement and juxtaposition.” It’s the juxtaposition that really struck me in “Here.” At one point, I felt as if I was looking at a photographic contact sheet (for those of you who only know digital photography, a contact sheet is a strip of images that have been developed from a roll of film, but not printed). Krupp and Rue pull white chairs into various positions, sit on them, crawl over one another to strike a pose, then change places once again.
David Rue and Anna Krupp balance in "Here" by Ella Mahler
photo @ Steve Mahler

When their bodies finally touch one another, it’s almost a shock to realize they’ve been dancing either side by side or one by one and have not physically come together before this moment. They lean their heads in, and the intimacy of the moment, while fleeting, feels so powerful. Looking back from the vantage point of several days, I also realize that, in some sense, this is a metaphor for the way we conduct relationships in the digital age. So often our contact with one another is through text or chat or some other online wizardry. How is that different from the way we interact face to face? Does it even matter?

Rue and Krupp each bring different qualities to this duet. Rue has a fluidity and grace that seemingly ripples through his limbs. I mentioned that he resembled a coiled spring; I might also compare his presence to a cat--I love cats--waiting to pounce. Krupp is equally graceful, but her presence is less fluid and more assertive. When she executes a sort of deconstructed version of popping and locking, you see her physical strength and versatility. The fact that Krupp and Rue are dissimilar movers is yet another juxtaposition, and makes this duet all the more compelling to me.
Anne Krupp and David Rue in Ella Mahler's "Here"
photo @ Steve Mahler

More than 60 years ago George Balanchine created a famous pas de deux for Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell in his "black and white" ballet, “Agon.” It was notable at the time because Adams was white and Mitchell black, and dancers of different races simply didn't perform together at high profile venues like New York City Ballet.  As I watched David Rue and Anna Krupp, I couldn’t help but think about contemporary conversations about race in America and wonder what, if anything, has changed in those six decades? Ella Mahler doesn’t set out to answer that question, but with “Here” she prompts us to think about differences, similarities, and how we humans move through world. Together and apart.

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