Nadya Zeitlin and Bautanzt Here Explore Time, Space, and the Meaning of Movement in “Body Guarding”
Encore performance of this work will be shown October 24th, 5:30 - check it out!
Photos by Arvin Temkar
On September 25 and 26, at 6:00 pm each day, Bautanzt Here, under the direction of Nadya Zeitlin, presented Zeitlin’s new work “Body Guarding” as part of the ELEVATE 2021 public art series. The performance took place at “54 Columns,” the enigmatic and occasionally controversial Sol LeWitt sculpture installation in Midtown. The company was gifted with a glorious Fall evening on September 25, and they took full advantage of it to offer a generous, intricate, and accessible demonstration of how creative timing, pacing, and spacing can affect everything from mood to meaning in dance.
Set to music by Ptar Flamming/Rogue Jury, with set design by Dima Alekseev and stage management by Loren McFalls, the ensemble for “Body Guarding” included dancers Julianna Feracota, Porter Grubbs, Amber Kirchner, Jenna Latham, and Ellie Tsuchiya. Jacqueline Pritz, Christina Massad, and Alisa Ershstein also contributed to the work. “Body Guarding” began with Latham seated on the slight rise of ground that separated the audience from LeWitt’s sculpture and the performance area. Latham watched the other four dancers move among the columns as she shifted positions slowly and gracefully. By carefully synchronizing the dancers’ movements and placing them strategically within the space, Zeitlin was able to create a playful funhouse effect in which two dancers might visually represent a single body, the legs visible in one part of the space, with the torso appearing in another. Speaking after the performance, Zeitlin described the columns as “portals” through which bodies might be transported. So one dancer’s torso seemed to disappear behind a column and reappear in the form of another dancer whose lower body was obscured by another column.
Over the course of the first movement, Latham gradually rose from the ground and, after a solo that showcased gorgeously fluid and expressive torso and upper-body work, joined the other four dancers among the columns. All of the dancers’ movements in this section frequently extended across the percussive beats of Flamming’s score, stretching time and setting a slower, stately pace. As Latham crossed the spatial boundary that separates “54 Columns” from the rest of the pocket park, the audience shifted position as well, moving into the perspective previously occupied by Latham. This impression of nested perspectives or moments, resting against one another like the layers of an onion, persisted throughout. The set design, flags emblazoned with silver-gray silhouettes on a semi-transparent background, seemed intended to reinforce the idea of layered realities. The low evening sun, however, obscured their effect, and the flags seemed superfluous given Zeitlin’s success in using the existing elements of the space, choreography, and movement to evoke an idea of synchronous moments being presented sequentially.
In the second section of “Body Guarding,” movement became a metaphor for contagion. Each of the dancers performed a brief solo while the others looked on, alert, bodies held in tension. Here, even though Zeitlin’s choreography highlighted the dancers’ individual strengths and styles, a shared gestural vocabulary suggested how the same illness might affect different bodies in similar and dissimilar ways. Given Zeitlin’s interest in examining “post-Covid corporeality,” this section was particularly evocative of the current moment, what collective humanity has lived through over the past 18 months, and what the world is still experiencing. Where in the beginning of “Body Guarding,” the slower pace suggested play and relaxed awareness, in this part of the piece, it created a sense of foreboding as illness made its way inexorably through the ensemble.
The pace of “Body Guarding” picked up in the second half. The gestural vocabulary shifted again to suggest striving, climbing, levering, and constructing. Graceful curved arms and extended attitudes gave way to sharper, more angular shapes. Rather than extending across beats, the transitions from one shape to the next took place on the beat in quicker succession. By combining the faster pacing with different configurations of the dancers within the space and distinct gestural sequences, Zeitlin’s choreography evoked a variety of moods and possible meanings: industry, frenzy, desperation, productivity, and focused intensity. During this part of the work, particularly when the dancers were grouped closely into a line moving in unison, the dancers’ movements could have been more closely synchronized. Nonetheless, overall, the dancers created a clear contrast with the ensemble dynamics of the first half of the piece and those of the final movement.
In the final series of solos, Zeitlin once again worked with the individual dancers to create distinctive, carefully tailored movement sequences. As a result, “Body Guarding” concluded with a demonstration of the depth of talent these five dancers brought to the work. Latham was quicksilver fluid and brilliant. Grubbs channeled powerful athleticism into lovely, sinuous lines. Tsuchiya contrasted razor-sharp lines and lightning-quick transitions against moments of softly folding contractions and luxuriously sustained extensions. Kirchner moved with dynamic, coiled energy, and Feracota paired technical precision with a uniquely expressive musicality. “Body Guarding” concluded with a joyful presentation of dancing as dancing, five bodies moving together in a celebration of embodied experience. As Kirchner moved into the space Latham occupied in the piece’s opening moments, the audience’s perspective shifted back outward to the position in which it began.
Zeitlin and Bautanzt Here successfully embraced the challenge of creating truly site-specific work in “Body Guarding.” Dancers and space combined to create something greater than the sum of its parts. “Body Guarding” also embraced the challenge of the current moment in which the pandemic has pushed performance art into non-traditional spaces and has prompted a society-wide rethinking of the relationship between individual and collective well-being. Choreographer and dancers together explored the expressive potential of contemporary dance to convey a wide range of emotional and symbolic content for dedicated patrons of dance as well as casual audiences enjoying a free performance in the park.