by Cassie Peterson
Milka Djordjevich + Chris Pecks MASS at The Kitchen
A large pedestal lies bare in the middle of the Kitchen’s black box theater. Gentle, blue-green lights highlight its hulking presence as a seascape score begins. From behind the pedestal, slowly moving body parts emerge, undulating up and down its dark horizon line. Each rising and falling is unrecognizable as a human endeavor. We see only abstracted images: whales breaching, full moons rising over ocean waters. The sound begins to pick up speed and the experience shifts from perfectly serene to nearly grating. We imagine choppy, foam crested waves. We are getting lost in this sea.
Choreographer Milka Djordjevich and musician Chris Peck have successfully created a rich, multi-faceted collaboration. Peck’s sophisticated sound contextualizes each of Djordjevich’s movement choices, both elements taking their time to mature through the 60 minutes of the piece. In addition, Sara C. Walsh’s set design adds a kind of grandeur to the piece. Her sculpture stands upright like a cathedral archway, sloping down to meet the pedestal on the ground. We are dwarfed and humbled by its literal “mass.” The elements of this collaboration are strong enough to stand on their own, and yet they exist in a highly considered equilibrium with one another.
The slow montage of ambiguous images continues to flirt with the horizon line until three dancers (Jessica Cook, Kyli Klevin, and Djordjevich herself) finally reveal themselves and climb atop the pedestal. They wear nearly identical pastel, leotard-like costumes (thanks to Naomi Luppescu) that create a sense of sameness, of twinship, of unity. The three identity-less bodies find one another and begin to take on ornate shapes. Soon, they are a mass of limbs moving in perfect unison. This newly formed togetherness works to produce one beautifully complex image after another, like underwater sea coral gently flowing with the tide. Each image is so well executed that I have fully forgotten that these bodies are attached to individual personhoods.
MASS is a gradual dance. It’s a steady exploration that is slow but never boring. It embodies an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of images ripe with clarity and commitment to craft. I sit, transfixed, as if watching a moving painting perpetually arrive at new expressions of its own content and form.
In all of these moments, the natural world is omnipresent. I can feel the topography of landmasses, the sea, mountains, fields, flowers. The unyielding majesty of the California coastline (where Djordjevich lives). The totality of the earth is conjured, and it feels like we are coming home to something much bigger than ourselves. Within this frame, MASS’s human element is constructed as part of nature, rather than apart from it. We are nature. We are mass. We matter.
The dancers eventually turn and face us, standing upright and reclaiming their fully recognizable human forms. As they open their eyes, we become aware of their individual faces for the first time. These are three distinct people now. In this moment, the piece has broken its own pristine form; it has broken its promise of perfection. Led by Kyli Klevin, they begin to speak, first as a whisper and then in a more audible register. MASS is becoming less sculptural and more narrative now—it is both an elevation and a deconstruction of the female dancing body. Perhaps this is a meditation on the state of women, the state of dance, or the state of women in dance? These dancers invite our gaze and our expectations. They are unafraid to disappoint us as they become more real and more vulnerable. As they begin to fill out their respective self-shapes through speech and eye contact, the whole slowly disintegrates, leaving only traces of their formerly perfect union.
They ultimately transition into a repetitive song made up of poetic fragments, quietly crooning about “loving the flaw” and accepting “imperfections” as they begin to noticeably fall out of unison. “Open and close,” they sing, while holding hands and moving across the floor. Sometimes they stop and tap each other on the rear. They rub and pat their bellies and thighs, bringing our attention to the realities of each of their bodies. As the dance goes on, MASS becomes increasingly looser, inviting irregularity and idiosyncrasy. Failure, even.
MASS is a holy communion of elemental forces. It is an expression of deeper truths. The piece has offered a gentle code of ethics made up of acceptance, spaciousness, and interdependence. The piece is a sincere confession about the realities of the female body, moving through the vastness of the natural world. It is both deeply personal and heroically epic. By the end of MASS, each of the dancers is sitting quietly alone, taking a much-needed rest. There is an overwhelming sense of closure, of coming home.
CASSIE PETERSON is a New York-based writer and thinker. She works as a psychotherapist by day, and moonlights as a dramaturge, essayist, and contemporary dance critic.