Contemporary dance can be mysterious. It’s perhaps both a blessing and a hurdle of the form. One reason why audiences sometimes find modern dance challenging is because they’re afraid they won’t “get it.” By nature, it’s an abstract form, so sometimes just sitting back and letting what you see and feel wash over you works best.
This is primarily how I enjoyed The Space/Movement Project’s enigmatic, yet captivating Recurrence Plot. But I did still take in some memorable visions and themes. The Chicago-based ensemble returns to the 2011 Fringe this year with a cast of six women for this 50-minute piece.
When you enter the performance space (Hanke 1, 1128 Main St.), right away you see the large painted backdrop of a rather bleak landscape scene with leafless trees and a subdued sun just starting to descend. Grayish and earthy tones prevail. The action begins with a fairly energetic solo that abruptly ends — perhaps in death? Creature-like, the rest of the pack (of animals?) slowly raise their heads and upper torsos in slow, smooth yoga-inspired poses. Here, and throughout the piece, intense focus plays an essential role: They watch one another, watch out for one another protectively or stare at each other in touch-and-go confrontation. Or they concentrate on their surrounding environment, seemingly for survival.
Structure-wise, the piece presents a series of vignettes delineated by changes in score and lighting; these often precipitated dramatic shifts in tone. Nick Sondy’s moody, widely varied original soundscape plays an essential role in the work’s unfolding atmosphere and ever-evolving cycles. Stark, sometimes fuzzy tones and drones give way to spare percussion or strings and keyboard sounds. Birds chirp, steam trains chug.
Plenty of lifting, partnering and weight-sharing underscore the group dynamics. The dancers appear animal-like, with a tight-knit “pack” feeling throughout. We witness the alphas, then a mother and her offspring. Inevitably, moments of aggression arise: one drags another by the feet, one holds another by the throat. Yet most of the choreography maintained an organic, sensual feel with smooth, elongated limb extensions, weighted pelvic rolls and sways, plus strong connectivity.
I found the title intriguing. “Recurrence plots” serve as an advanced technique for nonlinear data analysis in statistics and chaos theory — a way to better quantify and understand the mysteries of nature. They graphically show how natural processes can have distinct recurrent behavior.
The choreography brings these cyclical and recurrent elements to life with repeated motifs: uncurling spines, flicks of the feet, even a secret gestural language. Hands clap, then slap against thighs in a percussive frenzy, as if to say, “We dare you to come closer!”
Also, the term “plot” offers clever multiple meanings: a narrative plot, to plot something, or to plot points on a graph. Sitting in the audience, I must admit, I wish I’d had a program — just to have a bit more context or information about the work.
Recurrence Plot is certainly worth checking out as a pure dance piece. It plays out well within its palpable atmosphere created through movement and music. There’s no need to dig deeply to ferret out a narrative thread. Just sit back and absorb dance’s ephemeral moments, like so many life cycles.