Manifold Motion opened its most recent performance installation at one of Seattle’s newest arts spaces. The company has taken up space at INSCAPE, the old INS building in the International District. But, seeing this weekend’s performance, one quickly forgets that this was recently a government building. Manifold Motion has transformed three former offices into a dark and interactive glimpse at nature.
Waiting in the lobby for the intimate performance to begin—the florescent lights humming, a drinking fountain full of old water—viewers can hardly imagine the change in atmosphere that is in store for them.
A few minutes after show time, a silent tour guide, Alexandra Baybutt, creeps down the hallway and greets the small crowd that has gathered for the performance. Audience members follow the Moldy Minstrel, whose lit lantern dictates when viewers can participate in the art and when to simply observe.
As the group enters the first room, the energy suddenly changes. The room is covered in fabric, floor to ceiling. Music by Paul Beaudry fills the room with an air of mystery. Burlap sacks create a large cushioned area in the center of the room. The Minstrel leads the group around the room, touching decorative fabrics, furry pods that light up and jiggle when touched, and even a gooey wall of moving art.
The guide instructs the audience to be seated on the burlap pods, performer Elizabeth Rose begins to dance in the corner of the room. A minute or so into the solo, it becomes apparent that Rose is connected to the floor by her hands. In this powerful work, the dancer finds unique ways of using the walls to suddenly alight into creative handstands and surprising falls toward the audience members. Rose’s performance is intense, as she stares down the audience, trying to break free from her bonds.
Baybutt then leads the group through a curtain and into a second room. Here the audience finds a pile of brown paper, which is concealing the next performer. In this room, Mary Cutrera presents an eerie work filled with Butoh-like movement. Her face contorted and tortured, Cutrera towers over the audience seated on the floor. To add to this feeling of tininess, Manifold Motion has created a floating ceiling that lifts and lowers on a pulley system throughout the performance. The result is reminiscent of Alice’s Wonderland misadventures with her cookie and potion.
The group leaves Cutrera on the floor, her eyes rolled back and body twisted, to enter the final room of the evening. As the curtain is pulled back, the sudden smell of damp earth is quite shocking. Audience members are instructed to sit on benches (the first and only “seating” of the evening) facing the other half of the room, which is covered in about 2 inches of mulch.
Here, four dancers begin to perform a fearful quartet. At first they are cautious of the dirt, but as the piece progresses, they begin using the floor more, coming up with patches of earth on their off-white costumes. Suddenly, Emily German enters with a large parasol and hoop skirt, towing two more dancers in her “tentacles.” These three dancers perform an intense trio in which German tries to capture and kill the young spores. German finally catches one of the dancers and carries her out. The remaining dancers gather together, using the walls now covered with dirt, for protection. They throw themselves to the floor, tossing bits of dirt with every move. This quartet is the most “dancey” section of the evening’s work, showcasing the strength and talent of these performers. As the work ends with the four exhausted dancers lying in the dirt, one of the dancers (the Moldy Minstrel) stands up, dons her Minstrel coat, and leads the audience silently back to the bright and sterile hallway. The spell is broken. There is no applause for the collaborators, no bows for the performers.
Overall, all elements of this performance were highly professional. The cast—many of whom have worked with aerial groups such as The Cabiri, have performed in New York, or have choreographed on their own—are extremely athletic movers with surprising moments of grace. The set and costume design, which was conceived of and created by the founders of Manifold Motion, tied together quite well from room to room. With music composed specifically for this work, the ambiance in each room matched perfectly with the visual and performing arts. While not “traditional,” this performance truly is collaborative art—dance, music, and visual arts—brought together to create one complete work.
UNDER can been seen November 19-21 and 26-28, 2010, at INSCAPE. Performances are at 7:00, 8:15, and 9:30 pm Friday and Saturday; 6:00, 7:15, and 8:30 pm on Sundays. Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets, and are at a suggested rate of $18. For more information on Manifold Motion, visit http://www.manifoldmotion.com/index.html.