Aynsley Vandenbroucke Movement Group (AVMG) formed five years ago and has danced at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, Dance Theater Workshop, and the Joyce SoHo, among others—so they are not the newest of newcomers. But their opening performance of 3 Dancers, 4 Chairs, 26 Words at the Center for Performance Research in May gave me the impression of a promising “emerging artist’s” piece being offered at a workshop.
The show begins with three female dancers dressed in black walking in and sitting side by side in metal folding chairs. One calls out selections from the title’s list of 26 words: “beginning,” “walking,” “grave,” “bird,” “flying,” “emptied,” and the dancers either react to the implied command or stay still. They scoot their chairs forward or back in unison, stand and dance in place before sitting again, switch places. Throughout the dance, the modes change, but the same model is used repeatedly: the dancers stand across the stage from one another and yell words; they use overhead projectors to broadcast the words to the audience—sometimes they react visibly to the sounds and sometimes they don’t. The words never exactly come to form a narrative, and the dancers never build much of a relationship with them; everything stays separate and static from beginning to end.
To be fair, this may be part of the point. On AVMG’s website, 3 Dancers is described as “formal and stark...The piece asks if a dance with text can retain the open and direct nature of pure movement. Can words be abstract? How does grammar affect movement?” These are interesting questions, but their exploration and any possible answers get bollixed up here. I wouldn’t say that the text in this dance interferes with the direct nature of its movement, but since the movement itself doesn’t seem to be directly communicating anything in particular, it’s hard to say if anything could cause interference. “Can words be abstract?” Sure, when they’re presented individually, without building toward a larger idea or story. “How does grammar affect movement?” In this dance, we’re not given a chance to see, since the words never push past singularity into sentence-hood.
3 Dancers does excel in some key ways. It does convey a real mood—stark for sure; also two-dimensional, true to its black and white color palate. And the dancers are full of heart, sometimes even appearing to enjoy themselves too much for what is billed as a serious, if not, somber, piece (as when, after grunting, “Man… man… man…” at each other with different inflections and gestures from opposite sides of the stage, a couple of them could not contain their giggles). But for art to truly succeed, it has to communicate something. 3 Dancers needs to become either a more robust, detailed explanation of its purported theoretical roots or grow and embrace some story lying dormant in its 26 words to be anything more than a work in progress.
April Greene, the Rail's dance editor, lives, writes, and bikes in Brooklyn.