Cedar Lake dancers in Jill Johnson’s The Copier, photo by Evan
I’ve been fortunate enough to follow the progress of Jill Johnson’s The Copier for Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet over the past two weeks by observing rehearsals, but I still wasn’t sure what to expect at the installation’s premiere. The space felt and looked different when it was filled with an audience, making it more challenging yet exciting to navigate around the T-shaped stage. While I chose to circulate throughout the performance (it took me the entire forty minutes to make a complete circle around the stage) in order to continually change my vantage point, the majority of the audience remained stationary, either sitting on the floor or in the provided seating. As Jill mentioned in my initial interview with her, an installation requires the audience to be selective about what they watch. There’s no right or wrong, but how and where someone chooses to observe the performance certainly affects his or her viewing experience.
The fifteen dancers warmed up to nature sounds while the audience filtered in, and a paper shredder spit white streamers out across the stage, suggesting that we shred our copying tendencies. The room fell quiet as the dancers took their places – many of them laying on the floor with their eyes closed – under dimmed lighting. Individual routines and patterns gained momentum, perhaps reflecting the ever-quickening pace of the city, and began to overlap with others’ routines, resulting in partnering work, trios, and quartets. The dancers, all in socks and dissimilar costumes by Stephen Galloway that emphasized individualism amid a theme of copying, slid gracefully across the floor, but countered this with piercing jumps, sweeping arms, and kinetic, multi-dimensional athleticism. A blend of city noise – the subway, cell phones, and other unidentifiable digital chaos – in David Poe’s imaginative score was suddenly replaced by the jarring, rhythmic sound of a copy machine as a bar of light moved slowly – perhaps too slowly considering the rapid pace of a copier – across the empty stage. Standing in a line, the dancers became aware of each other, following one another’s subtle shifts and intruding personal space. The line dispersed into a variety of thoughtful duets and expansive ensemble movement, but the piece ended as tranquilly as it began – not accompanied by city noise, but by a simple, melodic piano solo.
Ana-Maria Lucaciu, Jon Bond, Harumi Terayama, and Golan Yosef
The improvisational component of the installation might not have been noticeable on stage, as the dancers so masterfully and seamlessly executed the movement that I found it hard to believe they were improvising. However, working with and around an audience requires preparation for anything. While I was immersed in watching a trio, a dancer rushed behind me and got caught up in my shoulder bag. I assumed he would continue on his path – probably rushing to his next entrance point for the piece – as planned in rehearsal, but he stopped, turned, and apologized to me before proceeding. It might not have been the most “dancey” or intriguing interaction between dancer and viewer, but it demonstrated what can happen when there is no barrier between the two, and signified how interactive dance can be more personal.
After attending Cedar Lake’s spring season this past June, I wrote, “The more I see of Cedar Lake, the more aware I am that it is definitely not a “cookie-cutter” company filled with dancers that all move similarly and approach the works in the same way. Rather, Cedar Lake is a company of individuals who bring distinct personalities and movement qualities to the dances…” The notion that everyone copies was at the heart of The Copier, but the dancers moved so distinctively that even as they copied others’ movement, they looked unique. I think this was part of Jill’s intention – to demonstrate, as she wrote in the program notes, that “in a digital era defined by seamless duplication and instantaneous dissemination, the fact that dance mostly defies notation and replication is part of what makes it special”. Every movement – and every performance of The Copier – appears different every single time, and therefore, every experience viewing the installation is different as well. That being said, I’m looking forward to observing The Copier again before it closes on August 23rd.
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A bar of light like that of a copy machine moves across the stage