Anna Sperbers Prize
THE JOYCE THEATER FOUNDATION
NEW YORK LIVE ARTS | JUNE 3 – 4, 2016
Like the body’s connective tissues, our experience of the present moment is malleable. What we are conscious of changes our perception. Contemporary performance directs this consciousness, engaging our senses to elicit experience.
Brooklyn native Anna Sperber premiered her show Prize on the New York Live Arts stage as a part of the Joyce Theater’s “Joyce Unleashed” program. An intricately woven musing on the intersection between nature and design, the piece emphasizes the act of seeing in dance. Through orchestrated concentration, Sperber creates innovative imaging that unearths disposition.
The show opens with an abrasive intro by Ryan Sawyer on drums. Six dancers emerge from black, hanging strips that line the sides of the stage. They look around calmly and with curiosity, meeting at center only to quietly examine one another. Tilting their heads and taking in the details of ears and shoulders, they casually reach for each other’s bodies, holding the spaces between ribs and hip bones. Tender fists are held to the sides of faces. Michael Ingle cups the outline of Lizzie Feidelson’s braid. Through soft, intentional touch, we come to see the boundaries that make up the body. Grazing one another, the performers draw gentle lines that match the colorful and abstract patterning on their costumes, designed by Christian Joy.
Holding hands, the group forms a circle that expands before they let go and slowly turn away from center. Two triads develop, creating rich and triangular sequences. The repetition of their movements exposes a fluid and rhythmic design, almost that of a fractal. In the same way that tiny beads fall together when turning a kaleidoscope, the performers form clusters, then separate. Creating an evocative sculptural display, Sperber illuminates the magic in the simple act of seeing.
As the piece breaks down into solos and duets, Emma Judkins remains stationary with one arm extended against a black backdrop. The actual shape of her arm—the curves of her bicep and forearm—becomes the focus, like statuary in a museum. Later on, her arm is held up at a right angle and another dancer grasps at her elbow with light fingertips. We can almost imagine the joint where the bones in the arm meet.
During Feidelson’s solo, she slowly pivots and twirls around the stage while the rest of the performers surround her. We come to notice that her shoulders are fixed, and her arms are locked at forty-five-degree angles away from her sides: she is moving solely from her legs. Through prolonged attention to detail, Sperber brings forth the layers that make up movement.
Halfway through the performance, a minor thread of wildness picks up momentum. Sawyer on drums emulates rain and wind as the performers in the group encircle each other like swarming bees, a sort of do-si-do. Tara Aisha Willis performs a charged solo as lighting designer Elliot Jenetopulos creates an elegant tundra with turquoise and shadow. Willis’s hands gather up from the floor as she crosses her body and presses her fingertips into her face—before crouching and slamming both hands on the stage. Chaos and exhaustion are expressed through her breath. In conjunction, Ingle appears in a sort of gallop, his hair thrashing behind him.
In one of the most engaging scenes of the evening, the stage is dark as the performers appear, swinging tubes above their heads, creating an eerie whistling sound. With dramatic lighting by Jenetopulos, the fabric strips on the sides of the stage take the form of deep woods. As the whistling picks up speed, the sound becomes its own elusive being hiding in the shadows, coming closer as the pitch heightens.
Later, in a duet between Jasmine Jawato and Rebecca Warner, Sawyer’s drums become loud and almost assaulting to the ears. Drawing on the body’s skeletal framework, Warner presses her hand to her chin and traces her jaw line, twisting her thumb at the joint that meets her cheekbone. A severe clash is exhibited between ambience and that which exists within it—a disfiguration of unruliness and composure.
Defined by temperamental states, Anna Sperber’s Prize is a compelling employment of vision, appropriately delivered on the New York Live Arts intimate stage.
LORI DEGOLYER is a Brooklyn-based writer.