The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

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NOV 2021 Issue
Dance

Subtle Moments on the Roof

Anna Sperber’s Bow Echo mixes site, sound, and choreography in one long breath of movement.

Myssi Robinson, Emma Judkins, Anna Sperber, and Angie Pittman in <em>Bow Echo</em>, 2021. Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.
Myssi Robinson, Emma Judkins, Anna Sperber, and Angie Pittman in Bow Echo, 2021. Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

The roof of the Old American Can Factory is intimidating. It’s harsh and massive, an unwieldy expanse of rough surfaces—not a welcoming place for bodies. Two lines of chairs mark the borders of the stage. One impromptu audience member watched from the window of a neighboring building, visible only by the top of their head.

Anna Sperber confronts the space, and the audience, with no anxieties. She propels herself between the audience rows with swift turns and swipes, bending the space into a funnel for attention. The venue is big, but the dance is bigger.

A collection of ominous black objects join the dancers on the roof. Two large flags, four mattress-sized sheets of reflective plastic, and four mysterious metal pyramids sat patiently as the dance began. As the dancers weave the set pieces into the choreography, they turn from decoration, to props, to movement scores.

Myssi Robinson and Emma Judkins in <em>Bow Echo</em>, 2021. Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.
Myssi Robinson and Emma Judkins in Bow Echo, 2021. Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

Sperber’s signature minimalism is, at its core, an exploration of friction and weight. The dancers set limbs against torso, fabric against wind, shoes against roof. These experiments produce movement and sound in equal measure. The flags ripple and purr as Sperber and Pittman rip them through the air. Every step makes a satisfying scuff, contrasting with the eerie screams of plastic dragged quickly across concrete. Occasionally, the uneven walls of the roof bounce a stray noise around the space in an act of site-specific ventriloquism.

The combination of released joints, powerful lunges, and hand gestures falls differently on each of the dancers. Angie Pittman rounds out her movement and spreads into the blades of her hands. She sinks patiently into her hips, making measured work of the choreography. Myssi Robinson casts some subtle magic, seeming to fall for half a second longer than expected every time. Emma Judkins works with nonchalant precision, hitting every position without revealing effort.

Sperber set the focused work of the dancers’ bodies against the forced perspective of the space. During a duet, Robinson and Judkins run in spinning leaps across the roof, racing as their freewheeling feet struck the concrete. In a matter of seconds, they shrink into the distance.

Bursts of sudden energy punctuate moments of slow repetition. The dancers’ durational pacing leaves space for viewers to find understated, exquisite revelations. After 40 minutes of dancing in spray-painted pink shoes, Robinson extracts her foot from her sneaker to reveal a pink sock in the exact same shade. When the dancers drag the acrylic sheets across the roof, tiny pieces of grit skitter along the reflective surface. In a moment of silence, the dancers each pick up a small metal pyramid and swing it as they pass along the rows of audience members. The pyramids turn out to be bells, ringing syncopated harmonies down the length of the roof. A short while later, nearby church bells chime in response.

Myssi Robinson in <em>Bow Echo</em>, 2021.  Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.
Myssi Robinson in Bow Echo, 2021. Photo: Maria Baranova-Suzuki.

About two-thirds of the way through the show, some of the beauty wears off. The relentless unison and walking patterns take a toll on the performers. Their breathing gets heavier as we watch them transport industrial materials back and forth across a factory roof. The choreography transforms into a shadow of the venue’s history—a place of labor, repetition, moving parts, and endurance.

Still, a well-placed moment of silence can bring wonder back to the audience. Near the end of the show, reversing like cars out of a garage, the cast pulls their black sheets in another round of unison. They head toward the opposite end of the roof and stop in an evenly spaced line. Facing out into the distance, the dancers lift the plastic above their heads. They pull the top corners in to curl the sheets like capes around their bodies. Four black pyramids tower at the edge of the space and deliver one final revelation: they become the bells.

Contributor

Noa Weiss

Noa Weiss is a dancer, writer, and unlicensed archivist based in Manhattan Valley.

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The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2021

All Issues