In _A Quiet Reflection Vol. 2_ Hannah Myers embraces complexity and uncertainty
As dance returns to more traditional performance venues, even though the pandemic lingers, artists and audiences alike may feel a renewed appreciation for the affordances of these spaces--things like sprung floors, real wings, lighting design, and air conditioning. At the same time, though, choreographers, dancers, and patrons may be reluctant for an uncritical return to the status quo after experiencing the strange, terrifying freedom of Covid constraints that upended everything and shattered so many aesthetic preconceptions. In A Quiet Reflection Vol. 2, Hannah Myers and the ensemble seemed to embody this struggle to achieve a new creative and existential equilibrium in which trauma and emergency recede into the background but order is not so much restored as reconfigured in light of lessons learned.
Myers created A Quiet Reflection, with its approximately 50 minute run time, for the Atlanta Fringe Festival. The detailed online program notes described an eclectic variety of thematic elements, artistic inspiration, and music choices. At first glance, the program suggested a series of loosely related vignettes, and the opening moments of A Quiet Reflection seemed to confirm that expectation. While the performance began with the full ensemble briefly appearing together on a semi-dark stage, the choreography in the first two sections established a clear distinction between the lyrical, neoclassical vocabulary of Jane Krantz's solo, and the more angular, contemporary shapes and gestures that Jenn Klammer and Kathryn Gutierrez introduced in the second section. At the same time, warm, diffuse theatrical lighting illuminated Krantz, while directional lighting and projected film clips cast as much shadow as light over Klammer and Gutierrez.
Nonetheless, unifying elements also emerged. The simple but elegant costume design clad all of the dancers in shades of gray--ranging from cloud-pale to almost-black. They wore close-fitting, long-sleeved shirts or leotards printed with a pattern like swirling smoke, and loose gray shorts reaching to mid-thigh. Closer reading of the program notes revealed that musical compositions by Myers's fellow Hartt School graduate, Taige McMahon, alternated with and provided a consistent thread that
stitched together the work of diverse classical composers--Liszt, Pergolesi, Dvorak, Mozart.
Additionally, the anxiety that permeated Klammer's and Gutierrez's duet occasionally percolated to the surface of Krantz's otherwise buoyant and fluid first solo, while the bold lyricism of the solo just as subtly infused the duet. For example, several times, Krantz stiffened and brought her hands up almost to her head while contracting her sternum inward, in a motion that resembled someone gripping their temples in pain or frustration. Similarly, while Klammer and Gutierrez most often seemed weighted by anxiety, working through angular contractions in which the sternum drew the shoulders inward and the solar plexus pulled back into the spine, turned-in hips limiting the range of motion in their legs, occasionally, they seemed to blossom beyond the bounded vocabulary, their limbs stretching for a few tantalizing beats into luxuriously extended attitudes or side extensions.
Myers's choreography returned to the neoclassical vocabulary of Krantz's solo in the third section, featuring a quintet of dancers--Andie Knudson, Jenna Latham, Sally O'Grady, Dom Kinsey, and Rose Shields, establishing a choreographic pattern to match that of the musical scoring. Other recurring sonic and visual cues weaving the parts into a whole included spoken word monologues that introduced each section, the brief and enigmatic video fragments projected onto the backdrop during Klammer's and Gutierrez's first duet that reappeared in the fifth section, and the box-like wireframe structure from which a dancer emerged during the piece's first minutes and that Klammer and Gutierrez demolished in the fourth section.
The sectional transitions--involving choreography, lighting, and sound design--in the first half of A Quiet Reflection were somewhat abrupt, but they smoothed considerably during the second half. Although the wireframe box that the dancers disassembled in section four definitely acquired and contributed meaning, integration of the physical structure as an element of the stage design felt incomplete. In spite of these rough edges, however, the overall effect of A Quiet Reflection was of layered complexity rather than clutter. The projected video clips, for example, complemented the dancers' movement, rather than distracting from it. Spoken word never competed with musical or gestural elements for attention, and throughout, periodic brief intervals of stillness, darkness, or silence provided the audience with an opportunity to reflect upon and process what was playing out onstage.
Myers also resisted a simplistic dualism in her coding of the movement and musical accompaniment. Like Krantz's opening solo, the quintet's performances in the third and fifth sections were occasionally punctuated with images of strain, suffocating tedium, or emotional and physical collapse. The dancers froze in almost sculptural stasis, or melted into one another's arms and had to be dragged from the stage. Haunting negative image video of individuals dancing alone in cramped rooms and living spaces sometimes illuminated the backdrop as the quintet moved in lovely synchrony. Nonetheless, Myers's choreography in all of the neoclassical sections clearly invited the audience to revel in their beauty and expressive musicality.
In those sections where Myers drew on a more contemporary vocabulary in creating movement for Klammer and Gutierrez, the gestural structures seemed less the source of tension and anxiety than a medium for expressing and moving beyond them. Myers's sparing integration of neoclassical shapes in these sections, however, suggested a reluctance to abandon them completely in spite of their limitations or worn familiarity. Throughout, a deep awareness of and appreciation for the beauty and cultural value of traditional, formal structures and aesthetics seemed to mingle with an understanding of their sometimes stultifying oppressive force.
The dancers all gave technically strong and polished performances. Krantz had gorgeous lines and a gravity-defying ballon in her jumps. Klammer and Gutierrez displayed an almost uncanny synchronization in their timing and the shapes they created. Other standout performances included Andie Knudson's stoic grace in the third section, and Dom Kinsey's and Jenna Latham's beautifully expressive upper bodies and razor sharp attack in the fifth.
A Quiet Reflection Vol. 2 was of the moment, engaging with pandemic trauma of the recent past and current uncertainty about the future. At the same time, though, the dance transcended its immediate context. It was not a piece about the pandemic, but its themes and images resonated with urgency for an audience that could not help but attach them to what we have lived and are living through. Myers and the ensemble struck a delicate balance between immediate cultural reference and relevance and a more universally accessible expression of shared human desires and experience.