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    (L-R) Ebony Williams, Golan Yosef, Nickemil Concepcion, Ana-Maria Lucaciu, Kristin Weiser, Acacia Schachte in Cedar Lake Ballet
    Photo by Julieta Cervantes
    (L-R) Ebony Williams, Golan Yosef, Nickemil Concepcion, Ana-Maria Lucaciu, Kristin Weiser, Acacia Schachte

    Copies in a Crowd

    Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet presents "The Copier"


    After attending two performances of Jill Johnson’s dance installation at Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, it may be a shallow insight to realize the irony of coming away feeling I had seen two completely different performances of a piece about replication. More interesting than the actual dance itself is the angle from which you happen to be watching, or where you happen to be looking. So much can be going on at any given moment that one can return any number of times and never hope to catch it all. Besides, the dancers would never do it the exact same way every time.

    Choreography by: Jill Johnson.
    Dancers: Christopher Adams, Jubal Battisti, Jon Bond, Soojin Choi, Nickemil Concepcion, Jason Kittelberger, Ana-Maria Lucaciu, Marina Mascarell, Oscar Ramos, Matthew Rich, Acacia Schachte, Harumi Terayama, Kristen Weiser, Ebony Williams, Golan Yosef.
    Music by: David Poe.
    Production design by: Jill Johnson.
    Costumes by: Stephen Galloway.
    Lighting design by: Jim French.
    Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
    August 2008

    “The Copier,” which hardly needs to explain its concept so explicitly, is about how we “copy others everyday,” taking its inspiration literally from a copy-machine. “We stand in lines, forward emails, repeat overheard slang and opinions, and follow trends,” Johnson notes on the performance handout. At the heart of Johnson’s piece however is a meditation on the tensions that exist between the robotic lockstep of the rush-hour crowd and the dream of the individual. On a low-lying stage, the dancers move and improvise in seeming isolation from the rest, every so often falling into sporadic, at times incomplete, synchronization. Occasionally couples and groups form as though by chance. Dancers walk off the stage and unceremoniously disappear into the crowd, challenging the audience/performer relationship. The costumes, which have a decided randomness, make it easy for the dancers to blend into the crowd. A marked informality informs the work. Here, walking flows naturally into dance, a sweaty brow is wiped unselfconsciously, and running across the busy stage is only a faster way to get nowhere in a hurry.

    What effect all this produces over the course of its 40-minute length can run the gamut from brilliant to not so interesting. When all dancers are present, there is little sense of any one dancer’s importance as being greater than another’s, no sense that there is any single focus. Instead, Ms. Johnson gives us a kind of mini-portrait of individuality working within a collective, a detail of the crowd psychology of urban dwellers. It seems to say that we move together at times, mindful of one another, and at other times we move mindful only of ourselves. A perfunctory reading of the piece picks up easily on the city themes, the subway platform, the anxieties surrounding issues of personal space, the Warholian efficiency of the “copier,” which spits out reproductions of reproductions. Here, it seems Johnson is questioning the notion of efficiency as a way towards a meaningful life, examining the contemporary phenomenon of the over-scheduled, time-managed lifestyle. Then there is David Poe’s score, which is weaved through with everyday sounds like traffic, a dial tone, muffled subway announcements, bird song, and (what else) the sound of an industrial-sized copier. And yet it’s the underlying possibility of collision, the tense conflict between personal space, crowd density, and intimacy, as well as the humble assertion of individuality that gives the work its power. The execution of the concept is, at times, breathtaking. Few dance pieces manage to simultaneously evoke the existential malaise of office work, depict the false intimacy of shared space on cramped subway cars, and render nostalgic those frantic late-night visits to Kinkos that so many New Yorkers know only too well.

    Nickemil Concepcion, Acacia Schachte and Oscar Ramos in Cedar Lake Ballet
    Photo by Julieta Cervantes
    Nickemil Concepcion, Acacia Schachte and Oscar Ramos

    The dancers hardly break a sweat. While I don’t think there is a weak member in the entire company, given the nature of the somewhat nondescript choreography, the strengths of certain dancers are consequently highlighted. Both of the women given brief solos were exceptional, beginning with Ana-Maria Lucaciu, who has the odd ability to embody stillness even while she’s moving. The long, thin, lyrical lines of her body seem to vibrate with the energy of her concentration. Acacia Schachte has a strength and energy in her arms and her shoulders that certainly lend conviction to her phrasing, but she can seem cold and cerebral, too. However, there’s a poignancy about her dancing, almost as though every movement and gesture were a strike against some larger power, and her commitment is total.

    It’s interesting to note that while the audience is encouraged to walk around the space in order presumably to see the work from different vantage points, none but a few people attempted this. The vast majority of the audience staked claim to their spots and sat or stood in place throughout. This was unfortunate for those brave few who attempted to navigate the space. Walking around was more challenging where the crowd was at its heaviest, an ironic similarity to the subway platforms the dance refers to.

    AUGUST 27, 2008

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