Mind Dancing

Johanne Saunier in Erase-E(X) at the Redcat : photos by Steve Gunther

Watching a performance of the dance piece Erase-E(X) at the Redcat Theater felt like stepping into a living version of the computer game Psychonauts. The four 'worlds' were imbued with intelligence, the ironic use of technology was wry, and the virtuoso moves of the dancers took the mind into a series of alternate realities effortlessly.

The journey began with a composition by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and moved through a series of 'erasures' of that choreography and then reinventions that moved obliquely though meaning and metaphor. (The idea for this came from Robert Rauschenber's 1953 erasure of a drawing by Willem de Kooning.) I don't know if there was really any meaning to it, not in the way of well-made plays and classical ballets. The meaning was all in the juxtapositions of movement and sound, breath and gesture, dialogue and silence. Each section had a logic of its own that teased the mind into following the shifting moves with something like understanding. The human mind is a meaning-making machine, and the twists and turns required of it while watching the dancers were as stunning and delicious in their own way as the choreography.

Dancer Johanne Saunier performs the Prologue

The piece opened when the principal dancer, Johanne Saunier, walked out casually in black pants and white t-shirt and announced the prologue. She did not stroll on as a performer, but as plainly as a theater functionary about to give the obligatory opening speech thanking donors and admonishing cell phone users. I was totally unprepared for it when she broke into dance as simply as one would light a match. I smiled with pleasure at the grace and ease with which she took me across the threshold from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

The choreography of the prologue, a dynamic meditation performed with no music, ended with the dancer simply stopping and announcing 'Part One.'

Transmitters broadcast the dancer's breathing in a percussive counterpoint

She then put on a cocktail dress as transmitters and microphone were taped to her arms and cheek in plain view. The 'music' began, a clip from the soundtrack of a French film with dialogue. In the first of the series of 'erasures,' the Wooster Group and reinvented the original, adding psychological content based on Goddard's image of modern woman. Then, in Part 2, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker 'erased' the psychology to create a solo piece of pyrotechnics and longing danced to Indian percussion music by Umayalpuram Sivaraman and to 'Jolene' sung by Dolly Parton. In Part 3, Isabella Soupart took over the choreography and turned it into a crackling satire of modern life.  A second dancer, Charles Francois, joined Ms. Saunier, and the two of them deconstructed their own work even as they executed it flawlessly.

Charles Francois joins the dance and the sound collage

'Erase-E(X)' was a fantastic opening show for the season. For information about upcoming shows, go to www.redcat.org.

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