Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bebe Miller - Dance Cleveland

'BEBE MILLER COMPANY uses "motion capture" to create visual art

The Bebe Miller Company recently brought its newest dance piece, ‘LANDING/PLACE,’ to Cleveland under the joint sponsorship of Dance Cleveland and Cuyahoga Community College.

You don’t go to see Miller’s work expecting the “normal” dance program. This is both its strength and
its weakness. Her company doesn’t dance, per se, it
uses “motion capture” which incorporates state-of-the-art digital equipment to capture every subtle movement of a subject, preserving the movements on a computer. The technology is most often used for creating visual special effects and animation. In other words, the dancers are incorporated into mechanically produced musical sounds and computer generated graphics. It’s much like being in a contemporary art gallery, often with pictures that make no logical sense, with dancers who are free-flowing in their interpretation of a continuously developing illusion against a background of video movement.

The ‘LANDING/PLACE’ project, which began last October when the company started to integrate the “motion capture” with video imagery, developed over the summer.

According to Miller, the ‘LANDING/PLACE’ project “explores sensory, spatial and cultural dislocation—the yearning toward order in the apprehension of difference. Inspired by Miller’s travel in Eritrea, North Africa, ‘THE LANDING/PLACE PROJECT’ is created as a portrait of a more common landscape, the daily exchange of competing ideas of ‘place’ and the tension created by an unfamiliar body in an accustomed landscape.”

With all that said, I was not captivated by the intermissionless performance. Okay, I may be old-fashioned, but I like to understand, to feel something, to be carried away by what I see on stage.
At first I was captivated by the integration of the media. I was especially enamored with the technician, sitting alone stage right in the orchestra pit, who with his Mac computer and technical gear produced all the visual and musical/electronic sounds. After a while my attention waned, especially when a spotlight came up on him and he lip-synced an opera aria and then jumped on stage and attempted to dance with the performers. Well, I guess it could be called dancing if you consider wiggling one’s hips and sliding one’s feet around clumsily, dancing.

After my interest in the technician waned, I just sat back and watched the proficient dancers move around the stage. This is a very talented group of
performers! They deserve to be the center of
attention, rather than the gimmicks.

For a while I tried to make sense of the “stories”
being developed, but those attempts also soon waned out of frustration. I wasn’t alone in my attempt for understanding. Seated in my row was a charming teenager, who was in attendance with her mother. She leaned over about half-way through the production and whispered, “Is this supposed to make some kind of sense?” The mother replied, “I have no idea.”

I get frustrated by artists who pile trash in a space and call it a work of art. I am confounded by those who paint a bunch of squiggly lines and hang it up and then expect viewers to spend long periods of time pretending to like the work. I don’t think it’s art when someone gets up on a ladder and randomly pours paint onto a canvass. I also get upset by choreographers who create something that defies understanding and then state that the audience should interpret it for themselves. That’s not my job. It’s the creators job to give me enough concept and execution to lead me in some direction, even if its in a direction in which I don’t want to go.

At the conclusion of the performance the young lady sitting next to me said to her mother, “Should we stay for the after-talk? Maybe they’ll explain to us what we just saw.” Her mother said, “No! Someone else shouldn’t have to explain to you what you just saw. She should have made it clear to you with what she created on stage.” My response? “Amen!” I’m going to hire this woman to help me write my future reviews.