March 10, 2005

Titanium Reflections

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Cornellians are segregated, perhaps above all, by the discipline of study each chooses to pursue. Zooming out of individual colleges, however, we may find that, indeed, we are all simply seeking a way of understanding the world.

The latest original production at the Schwartz Center, Reflections in an Eye of Titanium, is a modern dance piece that visualizes the human activity of defining our environment. Reflections is organized into five different movements, each based on a period of time during which Western civilization generated new systems of understanding the world — from the ancient accounts of nature to Einstein’s theory of relativity. The creators, under the direction of Artistic Coordinator and Lighting Designer E.D. Intemann, were interested in exploring how art and science intersect in understanding an otherwise chaotic and arbitrary world.

While each segment may stand on its own as a performance piece, arranged together, they provide a multi-dimensional representation of Western thought’s evolution through time. The performance employs the Fibonacci series and its derivative, the Golden Ratio as the basis for its structure. The Fibonacci series (where every figure is the sum of the two preceding) is a sequence of numbers produced in the 13th century that has fascinated and perplexed mathematicians and artists alike. An intersection in scientific and aesthetic disciplines, the series can be found in and applied to natural formations such as the petal arrangement on flowers, musical compositions, architectural constructions and even the human body.

The show reflects the accumulation of ideas in Western human consciousness with each segment increasing in duration, visual elements and dancers. The scenery, designed by Christa Seekatz, reproduces this notion of ideological accretion. The stage starts out vacant and progressively becomes populated with complex structures, beginning with straight lines or two-dimensional shapes and evolving into curves and multi-dimensional constructions.

The visual elements include abstract and surrealist videography by Senior Lecturer Marilyn Rivchin. Resident scenic artist Sarah Bernstein designed the costumes in the same evolutionary fashion. Bernstein explains that a society’s manner of dress reflects its underlying philosophy and attitude. On that note, the costume designer took inspiration from each historical period that the dance segments represent, drawing from popular art forms, clothing patterns, specific technological innovations and more contemporary re-interpretations of each time period. One way the designers appropriated their own technique for the show was through sketching designs on top of photographs of actual dancers, taking into account specific bodies and specific movements.

The pieces are visually conceived in dance by Associate Professor Joyce Morgenroth, college scholar Kathleya Afandor and Senior Lecturers Janice Kovar, Byron Suber, and Jumay Chu. The acoustic element of the show, composed by Senior Lecturer Allen Fogelsanger and engineered by Lecturer Warren Cross, starts with natural sounds and develops into sonic ambient vibrations. The music is more atmospheric than rhythmic, thus engendering a more irregular set of movements from the dancers. With no steady counts to rely on for cues, dancers depend on each other’s natural pulse to synchronize their movements.

The first movement is a solo performance depicting primitive thought. A dancer, wearing a formless costume made from organic fibers, performs austere, ritualistic motions.

From the natural world, the performance moves onto the Renaissance period. Inspired by the geometric discoveries of linear perspective and its transformation of two-dimensional representations, the stage duplicates an oil painting. Three dancers are attached by long, elastic strings to a steel grid, creating an image of a mapped-out canvas.

The third segment represents the Victorian era. The choreographer takes inspiration from a French film about a country priest. As the show progresses, there is a palpable increase of agitation in the music, in the scenic elements and the bodies in motion. Each figure in their own narcissistic occupations, gradually occupies more space and time.

The fourth segment is inspired primarily by Albert Einstein’s body of work. The choreographer visualizes the theories developed in the attempt of elucidating issues concerning time and space. The dancers embody scientific pursuits like the notion of relativity, the nature of black holes and even time travel. While playing with ideas of space and time, this portion also deals with issues of the human experience in a society after industrialization and growing urbanization. Female dancers don uniform, white suits as they make and get swallowed by space. The visual composition evokes the crowd’s inhalation of the individual in the same manner by which particles in space get inhaled by greater heavenly bodies.

The fifth and last segment locates itself in contemporary time while looking towards the future. The dancers are costumed in neoprene outfits inspired by iMac computers, performing even more mechanistic, convoluted actions.

Taking the stage as a metaphor for Western consciousness, Reflections depicts the succession of scientific and artistic ideological shifts. The representation interprets the development of thought as an accumulative process that takes from the past as much as it looks towards the future. For example, we see the figural body of pre-historic thought run through the stage in subsequent sections of the show. In the latter part of the concert, dancers from individual segments congregate on stage. We see more interactions between anachronistic figures and contemporary ones as they warily appropriate each other’s movements as their own.

Reflections, a recapitulation of human intellectual development, entertains as much as it simultaneously baffles and clarifies the way we know the world. Despite advances and innovations, the past is always with us.

Archived article by Whine Del Rosario
Sun Staff Writer