Live III: Internal Landscapes at the Peñalver Studio

A healthy body is supposed to be orderly. Each organ operates with a certain predictability, developing a synergy with the other parts, and contributing to the success of the larger whole. But throw in a few unpredictables, from illness to a heavy emotional experience, and things can get tricky. Live III: Internal Landscapes, a performance piece created by choreographer John Ollom and painter/sculptor Amadeo Peñalver, explores this trickiness. In an ambitious work that incorporated dance, painting, music and video, the artists performed on October 20, 2007 in Peñalver’s studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Besides Ollom and Peñalver, the work involved the talents of Dutch video artist Jakob Milikoski and Spanish composer Jose Javier Pena Aguayo. Each artist worked on his own separate work throughout the performance, from Aguayo directing his six-piece orchestra, to Peñalver creating a painting. While each artist was focused on his own specific piece, each also worked off the other performers, perhaps increasing the tempo of the music or figures in the painting to correspond with the works being created by the others. The result was a complex mix of disciplines and styles that emphasized the connection of the physical and emotional, as well as order and disorder.

Live III: Internal Landscapes

The show began with the performers and audience positioned fluidly throughout the studio: the dancers lay under colored sheets on the floor and elevated stage; several audience members and the musicians in Aguayo’s orchestra were strung along one wall while the rest of the audience sat at the back, in front of a screen that broadcast Milikoski’s work (which he created with a handheld camera as the performance got underway); a petite woman (Janet Aisawa as the ‘goddess’ Kali/Kuan Yin) stood on a trapeze hanging from the ceiling; and on the wall opposite the audience and musicians a large blank white canvas stood waiting for attention.

Janet Aisawa as Kali/Kuan Yin on the trapeze

Things began slowly, with twitches and slow movements from under the sheets and a steady beat coming from percussionist Chris Thompson.  Dancers removed their sheets and began interacting with one another as Peñalver, who was host to the event, walked toward his canvas casually, and started to work. Things quickly got very busy and over the next nearly hour and a half, it was easy to feel a sense of whiplash as the audience looked back and forth across the studio space trying to keep track of all the action that was happening.

Ramona Rodriguez-Crosta and Dana Albertson as the nerves look at the goddess; the orchestra lined up against one wall while Peñalver works on the other

The dance performance, choreographed by John Ollom, the artistic director of Ollom Dance Theatre, was based on the concept of muscle memory—that you have certain ideas locked in your body from experiences at a younger age that become an unconscious, and physically-manifested part of you later in life. Part of the performance tells the story of a youth  (“Intimus Pueri”, played by Chris Sarasin) fighting through feelings of sexual confusion and inner turmoil. This “inner child” spends much of the show behaving with introverted nervousness. Confronted with grown naked male bodies (a trio of naked men known collectively as “Nudis Interuptis”), he recoils and then returns with interest.

Intimus Pueri (Chris Sarasin) looks on the other 'parts' while Peñalver works on his painting, which he moved to the floor for the latter part of the show

Corresponding to his tension are the other dancers who perform as parts of the body, reacting to one another with uncomfortable tension. The brain ('Cerebrum' played by Sophie Poletti DeVore) moves gracefully and deliberately while the nerves (Ramona Rodriguez-Crosta and Dana Albertson) fidget around and create disruption. As the performers embodied their various roles, the most entertaining aspect was the way the parts interacted with one another. Occassional periods of synergy also occur, as when the sexual drive ('Testis' played by Ollom) and the heart ('Cor Cordis' played by Janelle Abbott) dance as an elegant duo, sexual but restrained. This contrasts with a much more libidinous performance minutes later by Ollom and the other 'Testis', Douglas Allen.

John Ollom and Douglas Allen as the Testis, with 'Cor Cordis', the heart (Janelle Abbott)

At a few points, especially toward the end of the set, the dancers are thrown into a massive tumult and the music shifts from distinct, separate notes to a cacophonous clatter. All the while Peñalver paints, his canvas getting increasingly more discordant with black shapes and streaks. Partway through the show he removed the canvas from the wall and laid it on the studio floor, which brought it in even closer to the action of the dance, with several members of the Ollom Dance Theater coming close to stepping on the work themselves.

Aisawa kept toward the side much of the show, until finally joining in with the group of dancers and bringing a sort of peace to the 'body'. Her role seemed to be that of a spiritual masseur, bringing the unharmonious parts into alignment with one another. As the show concluded she seemed to have calmed the strife.

Kali/Kuan Yin works with Intimus Pueri

The action happening in the studio was left intentionally elusive for the audience. Speaking to Ollom before the performance, he explained that, “I do stories but leave ambiguity. I like leaving windows open so the audience can interpret.”

It wasn’t just the audience who was left with windows of ambiguity. Peñalver, Aguayo and Ollom had no formal rehearsals prior to Saturday’s show, and dancers in Ollom’s group similarly had not had a full run-through with all the members at once either. Working with only an outline, the differing parts of the show were left with many openings in which they filled in the details as they went.

Peñalver was especially interested in the improvisational elements of the piece. “The important thing for me is not the final work, it’s the process of the work. It’s the energy created,” said Peñalver the evening before the show. “It’s not the individual, it’s the process of creation, all these different disciplines, and even the public is going to be a part of this creation.”

This performance is the third “Live” show Peñalver has performed. The first in 2000 at Brooklyn’s Fish Tank Gallery and the second in 2002 at PS 1. His Live series emphasizes the energy of creation, in which the immediacy of a work being created is more important than any final product that could be hung in a gallery. As Peñalver says, “once something is created, the creator is finished.”

Peñalver works on his painting

This is the first of three slated performances of Internal Landscapes and each will have a significantly different environment in which the performers will put on the show. First in Peñalver's gallery, the second show will be performed in the much larger and more formal Clark Theater in the Lincoln Center in November of 2008.  The third performance will be performed outdoors where a natural setting can be incorporated into the performance.

Ollom is booked to teach "Internal Landscapes" as a technique at a lecture at Baruch College on November 28, 2007, at the Lalani Retreat Center in Hawaii on March 27, 2008, and the Easton Mountain Retreat Center in upstate New York on May 9, 2008, and the Ollom Dance Theater Summer Intensive at Smith College on August 5, 2008. Using the method of acting out parts of the body and working to get them in order for the sake of the whole self, he sees not just artistic, but theraputic value in the concepts explored in this work. Those interested in learning about this innovative technique at one of these four confirmed residencies can call the company at (212) 592-0103 or email [email protected].

Photos by Jakob Milikoski

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