A broken white line rushes through the dark. We hurtle with it, as on a highway, until the line splits, becomes a barcode, a chromosomal map, a latticework of alphabetic sign. A woman emerges from the black; she’s joined by a man and they dance, ballroom style, their swirling figures tattooed by the light of the criss-crossing graphics. They’ve only just vanished when they reappear—now here, now there, now multiples of themselves at once. He swoops her high, her arched foot grazes the heavens; then she floats upward, elusive as dream.
The opening of Bridgman/Packer Dance’s 2005 Under the Skin (at Baryshnikov Arts Center March 25-28) is a ballet vision scene with a twist: the audience (not a prince) searches for the human amid the avatar crowd. What’s real? What’s illusory? Again and again our guess is wrong. Next we’re led through successive red-lighted vignettes, a kind of psychic demi-monde with a boom-chicka beat. The man and woman wear crinolines that double as screens; parts of his body are projected over hers and vice versa, a giddy grotesquerie. An adagio duet follows, the dancers now semi-nude, their sensuous skin-to-skin a refuge from the identity chaos of before. They come to rest, sit, and gaze at their virtual selves like parents observing their brood.
If love makes us whole, desire threatens to cause our ruin. In Double Expose (World Premiere), the sexual cat and mouse of stock cinematic types spill forth from the imaginations of a modern day man and woman. Against a noirish filmscape of urban settings—decaying stone archways, rush hour sidewalks, pedestrians hastening down long flights of stairs—a trench-coated private eye stalks a mysterious dame; a youth in jeans romances his golden-haired sweetheart; the girl’s trampy twin seduces a bespectacled nerd. Bridgman and Packer play all of the roles. The real doubles the virtual which shadows the real in continuous visual loops. During a dream sequence, the man, woman, and their alter-egos randomly couple up, reaching for each other in their sleep.
These intermedia spectacles—collaborations with Peter Bobrow and Jim Monroe (video), Ken Field (music), and Frank DenDanto III (lighting)—dazzle with the movement of video montage. What little dancing we see is weighted and flowing, choreographed in repeating phrases that recall social dance forms. Yet even when hidden by streaming video, Bridgman and Packer’s partnering is exquisite. They’ve been performing together for 30-plus years and are masters at uncanned moments of erotic longing—Bridgman’s hand running the length of Packer’s hip, say, or holding fast as she swings away like a wind-blown sail. So while the fantastic effects of Under the Skin and Double Expose sweep viewers into mind-bending orbit, the humbler human gestures are never less than sublime.
L.J. SUNSHINE is a writer living in New York. She has written about dance and Italian cultural events for Oggi Sette.