I had to wait until tonight to see The Moving Architects‘ bill at Links Hall — three works from TMA and a solo by guest Ayako Kato — due to a weekend road trip. Called The Tasting Room (bait for food analogies I’ll do my best to resist), each short dance was a direct shot of bold flavor whose components, and the chemistry between them, are difficult to name and only in retrospect.
“Standing Girl with Raised Right Elbow” a premiere solo created and performed by Erin Carlisle Norton, opened the evening with a glimpse of the source from which her choreography on others springs. In the vein of the big-picture-minded, cusp-of-theatrical pieces I know and love as her unique style, “Elbow” heralded developments in it of recondite density and coordinational complexity. In a jewel-toned, asymmetrical dress and leggings, Norton makes her way across upstage with a spill of small, precise movements that face her in every direction yet somehow feel collectively profile. Lighting designer Francesca Bourgault, in whom Norton has found a partner perfectly-attuned to the temper of her work, drew attention to her every move, leaving her alone in dim whites and plunging her into luxurious golds.
Often seeming propped up — an exoskeletal, puppety movement texture that reappeared in “The New” — Norton shifted her head and focus to discrete points, her limbs and joints chasing single-file to complete the new shape. As though they were covered in wet paint or mud, her hands were left held out in front of her, seldom coming in to assist out of a deep squat or facilitate legs unfolding from underneath her seated body. Norton’s work is pristine — joining it with this image of being handicapped by imaginary filth generated an unsettling and effective rumble of tension. Suddenly, she grabbed her belly and lower back with both hands and shoved her womb at the floor, landing firmly on her shins. An armchair slides out of the wall behind her and she perches on its edge with that prim posture of sitting on furniture while trying not to touch it. Two songs by Rachel’s were equally lonely and full of empty space, but rather than tragic, Norton planted on two feet with her chin slightly raised suggested confidence in solitude and a rich internal landscape.
I was excited for Jocelyn Kelvin’s dance-film reimagining of 2008’s “This Sandy Cube” — the quartet that introduced me to Norton’s work — but technical difficulties thwarted its screening. In its place, a smartly-condensed suite of excerpts from Stops on the Line was shown.
From an artist I’d already describe as subtle and minimal, Kato’s “Impression” dialed back the bankable conclusions and perceivable events even further. Jason Roebke’s sound design — an artful arrangement of what sounded like Tokyo street noise, pops and static of a lavalier microphone behind fabric and the electronic chime of a subway turnstile or convenience-story entry — painted a bustling urban scene through which Kato floated undisturbed (you might say it’s an elegant haiku based on Neo’s realization of what he can do inside The Matrix). Kato’s poetry is in precision: whether holding out her hands in offering, pausing to lay on her back or reaching behind her in space (and, seemingly, time), the action is always pure, its simplicity allowing it to mean all of the things it might. Near finishing, she balances on relevé with both arms outstretched in a shallow V, palms toward us, impressing herself onto space the way a child’s hand goes into a paper plate of plaster of Paris.
Norton’s second premiere, “The New,” has a jerky swish to it in modern-dance-tribute to Mina, whose “Tintarella di Luna” opens the score. Lauren Bisio and Natalia Negron appear in retro print dresses, Jessica Wright and Jessie Young in mod outfits with wide belts; their looks show two sides of the swinging ’60s, one family-friendly and the other defiantly independent. A mini trilogy — “Luna” is followed by dances to The Tornadoes’ “Telstar” and “Surf Jam” by The Beach Boys — “New” is packed with data and visual motifs. The flush joy of its first hip-shaking moments cracks and leaks punishing movement that looks increasingly less voluntary but nevertheless beholden to a party vibe. Skittering walks holding out broken wrists like a dance number from a vintage TV commercial for nail polish widen their track until the quartet become stiff-legged, slappy soldiers bent at the waist. This involuntary vogue ball blazes forward leaving everyone gasping for air: the dancers pick each other up while continuing their sassy hip grabs unfazed, they drop to their knees and throw their bodies prone, arching their backs afterward and rocking incessantly. Doors are thrown open, slammed shut and found locked. Bald power and a Stepford eeriness sit and stare each other down. A ton of vocabulary was developed for this brief work, but it’s the hard-to-pinpoint mood of “The New” that’s making its images repeat in my mind as I try to decipher their cause.