Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pixel Dances Review by Margaret Putnam

Loop Review: Pixel Dances
More on the weekend's dance at Out of the Loop.
by Margaret Putnam
published Monday, March 7, 2011

Dance and video make uneasy partners, but that doesn’t deter choreographers who think video gives them an edge. It does, as demonstrated Sunday afternoon at WaterTower Theatre as part of the annual Out of the Loop Fringe Festival.

At its worst, video can be distracting, even overwhelming. Sometimes, too, the video turns out to be more imaginative than the dance. At its best, it adds a fascinating new dimension, creating in effect a whole new art form. Going even further with video and to brilliant effect was Hans van Manen’s Live for Houston’s “Dance Salad” in 2003, where a camera followed every movement of two dancers and threw the images onscreen.

Most of the time, however, the effect of video falls in between those two camps.

In presenting “Pixel Dances,” dancer and choreographer Ellie Leonhardt skirted close to letting video overpower her two solos,Caught. Catching and Encapsulating. In the first, sound and video artist David Bithell provided low-grade noise comprised of whooshes and bell rings and a very grainy, black and white video. Wearing a chartreuse dress and maintaining an air of somber reflection, Leonhardt kept her eyes to the ground as she danced in a stolid, somewhat clunky manner. The clunky was no doubt deliberate, since it also included a striking image of her lying flat on her back, legs lifted and bent, and her head up. She stayed that way for a long time, like a helpless insect.

The video captured bits and pieces of her movement in a teasing manner, like whiffs of smoke trailing off. Leonhardt held her own, however, if only barely.

In Encapsulating, the tide turned to Bithell’s advantage. This time wearing a blue dress and curled up on the floor, Leonhardt gradually rose to change directions constantly, sometimes spinning with her head tilted back and arms stretched out.

She even repeated the helpless insect pose, and then grew wild and frenetic. And like Caught. Catching, the video danced too, but in very short spurts of even more filmy images. At times, it enclosed Leonhardt’s image in sliding panels, at other times cast out multiple images that faded away in a fog. Sometimes only her torso was visible, and at other times only her feet. The sounds were that of muted gongs, played byBithell on a xylophone.

While video and dance fit very well together in Encapsulating, you couldn’t help but feel that the most imaginative element was the video.

The program also included Leonhardt’s ensemble piece for eight dancers, The Well Interruption, that I reviewed last week when it was performed on the Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth program.

♦ Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.

◊ These dance performances were only presented once. View a full Out of the Loop Fringe Festival schedule here.


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