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Flash Review 2, 2-4: Refractions from the Light
Dance, Poetry, Film, and "Sounds from Kandinsky"

"At the appointed time, necessities become ripe. That is, the creative spirit (which one can designate as the abstract spirit) finds an avenue to the soul, later to other souls, and causes a yearning, an inner urge.

"When the conditions necessary for the ripening of a precise form are fulfilled, the yearning, the inner urge acquires the power to create in the human spirit a new value which, consciously or unconsciously, begins to live in the human being. From this moment on, consciously or unconsciously, the human being seeks to find a material form for the new value which lives in him in spiritual form.

"That is the searching of the spiritual value for materialization. Matter is here a storeroom and from it the spirit chooses what is specifically necessary for it -- just as the cook would.

"That is the positive, the creative. That is the good. The white, fertilizing ray."

--Wassily Kandinsky, "On the Problem of Form." (Munich: R. Piper, 1912.) Translated by Kenneth Lindsay. Excerpted in "Theories of Modern Art," edited by Herschel B. Chipp, with Peter Selz and Joshua C. Taylor. (University of California Press, 1968.)

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- Even in the bewildered state induced by the sensory overload of VisionIntoArt's interdisciplinary approach, "Sounds from Kandinsky," seen this past week at Lincoln Center's Clark Studio Theater, was mesmerizing at moments, as one followed the curves and intricacies of Wassily Kandinsky's woodcuts, kept an ear to the experimental music, experienced the changes from spoken poetry to poetry floating across a screen, and observed a dance emerging first slowly and then with alarming speed from the wings.

It is no news that performance has become increasingly interdisciplinary, making borrowing from different art forms or juxtaposing one against another an expected element in today's performances. Rarely, though, have I seen such an ambitious leap into the realm of genre synthesis as "Sounds from Kandinsky." The production, which takes its name from the 1913 publication of Kandinsky's woodcuts and poems, is really an homage to Kandinsky's work and vision of artistic synthesis. Kandinsky, it seems, laid out his own theory of interdisciplinary art way before its time, and Vision Into Art's 'Sounds' attempts to fully realize this vision. But Vision Into Art pushes the boundaries, layering poetry on top of dance, on top of music, film, and spoken word performance. The result is that the viewer winds up with sensory overload -- a state we are all adapting to in- and outside of the theater. And, while this proved to be an intriguing aspect of the work theoretically speaking, it was at times hard to follow. I was not sure how some of the elements were supposed to fit together, yet Kandinsky's work remained the anchor.

As 'Sounds' opens, a blank screen looms over the quiet stage, until we see the first of Kandinsky's woodcuts. What follows is a series of vignettes, all some combination of dance and poetry, music and film, or spoken word and dance. Dancers trace out paths across the stage as poetry literally floats on the screen behind them. Musicians play music that tries to capture the energy and mood of a woodcut that is manipulated on screen, circling, zooming in and out, or fading down to the size of a pin hole. Spoken word performers make proclamations as dancers slither quietly by. There is a layered effect at work here, and, while we are supposed to view this as a whole piece, it is trying to absorb everything. I felt lost at moments, fishing for meaning, for a grip of understanding, a foot hold amid the stream of words, movement, and music. But the rhythm of the poetry, the repetition of words, the mesmerizing spin of filmic images was pleasing when one let go of trying to understand.

I may be biased here, or maybe it's just that I instinctively respond to dance, but I found the dance in this work to be one of its strongest elements. There seemed to be a striking correlation between the choreography and the tone and movement latent within Kandinsky's art. It was lovely to see how choreographer Rebecca Stenn infused her work with the same energy of the art this piece was based on.

Though it was only a sliver of the evening's offerings, peppered throughout the entire performance, the dance vignettes were striking, particularly Stenn in her abstract-modernist red dress -- the dress of a siren, really. Short and fleeting, they ranged from serene sequences to robotic isolations and, finally, jazzy flirty romps across the stage.

Stenn and Trebien Pollard are contained performers, dancing with an inner quietude and focus that makes one drawn to them. One rather sensuous and touching moment becomes a motif: Stenn is splayed out on the floor, her head arched back, legs spread as Pollard climbs over her and, carefully, folds himself into fetal position in the curve of her body. Just as quickly as he arrived at this position, he unfolds and the two are lying on their sides, Pollard's head resting on Stenn's knee, the two bodies forming one long S-shaped curve. Throughout, Stenn and Pollard continue to fold into and out of each other, as if they are being sculpted. Pollard carries Stenn onstage, her body taut like an arrow. In another entrance, Stenn is carried in seated upright, her feet peddling softly in mid-air. She hangs off and dangles from Pollard, as he spins her round and round, twirling like a mobile, or tracing circles in the air with her legs.

These lyrical and sensuous movements find their counterparts in the more robotic sections in which Stenn moves a hand, a hip, or a foot to the bleeps and blips of the experimental music. It's a disjointed energy and she is all angles and sharp corner -- a stark contrast to the previous soft curves. Here, though, such a direct translation of the music seemed rather simplistic. However, what was more intriguing was the jazzy interludes, with hips leading the movement, hands raised above the head, imparting nonchalance, as Stenn skipped and ball-changed across the stage.

Pollard is a stoic dancer, long-limbed and strong and able to convey control amid challenging movements in which he is required to chaotically perform a series of lightening quick direction changes. The partnering was a crucial element to the choreography and, fittingly so, Stenn and Pollard finish in a final sculpted duet. They stand in an embrace on a rotating disc, seemingly fused as they spin round. Still holding onto each other, they squat down and Stenn arches back, still spinning. It's as if we are watching two figures being melded into each other, two bodies on a potter's wheel, if you will. While I was overwhelmed by this choreographic work, I was also equally excited by the smart and forward-looking overall vision that Vision Into Art presented in "Sounds from Kandinsky."

Vision into Art is co-directed by Paola Balsamo Prestini and Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum. Dance for "Sounds of Kandinsky" was by Rebecca Stenn/PerksDanceMusicTheater; music by Gyorgy Ligeti, Nico Muhly, David Rakowski, Steve Reich, Evan Ziporyn, Ellen Taaffe Zqilich, Kroll-Rosenbaum, and Prestini; film by Chase Palmer; and poetry by, in addition to Kandinsky, Roger Bonair-Agard and Lynne Procope. Musicians included Lone Madsen, Stephen Gosling, Liran Avni, and musicians from the Juilliard School.

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