Dance often isolates in order to explore. Many choreographers take expansive themes to the stage singularly or in small combinations to more easily magnify and project them. Expounding on big issues discreetly—concepts like fear, wonder, rage, death, understanding, sexuality, growth, and loneliness–no doubt has its benefits. It is an efficient approach that provides a clean path for an audience. But it can have a downside too, forming a sense of detachment, of the action happening in a vacuum.
Chunky Move’s Glow succeeds in delivering a thoughtful variety of individual existential portraits while staying grounded on the track of experience’s larger, unbroken arc. And it does so in an inventive and involving way.
The 30-minute work, performed at The Kitchen over four days in February, was debuted by the Australian company in Melbourne in 2006. It is ostensibly a solo, but the almost constant presence of interactive video projections makes the lone female dancer appear to be the prime, but not only, instrument of the piece.
In the beginning, the house lights go down, the thumping electronic music bleeds in, and the white square in the middle of the stage is illuminated from above by thin parallel lines that travel methodically from one side to the other. Dancer Kristy Ayre inches onto the scene in a white knit leotard and lays in their path; thus begins the human-digital relationship that will carry Glow from start to finish. From there, Ayre begins to steadily navigate and express a series of emotional terrains. She is moved from dramatically supine—curious and palpably female, to gnarled in a rigid fetal pose to flung wildly in tandem with the tremors of her sporadic keening. Her movements are patient and masterful as she works through leaps of joy, foot-stamping frustration, and head-turning suspicion. All the while, Ayre is accompanied by the light: it outlines her in geometric shapes when she stretches; surrounds her with growing concentric lines when she spins; splatters in black blobs on the stage when she throws her arms down in exasperation, making visible the dark clouds she figuratively casts away.
The luminous projections belong to a tracking system that does not play back pre-rendered video, but instead responds to the dancer’s movements to generate each new image. This innovation frees the artist from striving to repeat each performance exactly in order to keep in step with the computer; here, the machine follows her, making the partnership noticeably and wonderfully organic.
Critical to the integrity and success of Glow is that the technology doesn’t come off as gimmicky or icing on the cake—it is a truly intrinsic element of the dance, and helps it present its case. Because there is only one person on the stage, she can always be in the driver’s seat—a perfect place from which to lead this circuitous journey from blindness through confusion and hope to understanding. But she is, by virtue of the light, not really alone, and the projections’ complimentary nature gives her many tools to work with. They fill alternating roles, as appropriate, of partner, ensemble, dialogue, and set. Since the dancer controls the light show with her movements, she is never in danger of being overwhelmed by it.
Glow is not a narrative or particularly linear piece, but it is a complete story. At the closing, Ayers stands to the side and watches as a white light grows to fill the stage, then slowly shrinks back down to a heart-sized spot in the dark. Through and with the light, she has known both the details and the grandeur of her experience, and therefore, so have we.
April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.