By Walter Rutledge
Sidra Bell Dance New York presented the New York premiere of garment Thursday May 15 at the Baruch College Performance Arts Center. The work by choreographer Sidra Bell had a running time of 60 minutes without an intermission. In many situations a protracted work of this length would have been an intolerable dirge, whose only redeeming quality was that it allowed the audience a short early evening nap. But this was the world according to Sidra Bell, and in her environmental fantasy fest we were on a non-stop roll coaster ride of subliminal and metaphoric imagery.
From the moment we entered the theater Bell began to take us into another dimension of sight and sound. All we needed was Rod Serling’s voiceover saying, “You have now enter the Bell Zone.” Two male dancers, Jonathan Campbell and Austin Diaz Mikey Morado clad in sheer fleshed colored tights flanked a freestanding blackboard each taking turns writing and rewriting the word “Rats” over and over in different colored chalk.
Female dancers Alexandra Johnson and Rebecca Margolink were dressed in long pants, flat shoes, bras and suit jackets, with black wrap-around sunglasses à la Men In Black. The two literally policed the aisles walking up and down, stopping and vigilantly standing. The almost clinically pulled back hair set in a high bun completed the austere look. While Mikey Morado also in sheer tights and a low cut sleeveless top dancing a sensual Samba with ample rolling hips over us on the house right parapet.
When the work officially started the strong colorless side lighting cut visibly sharp beams through the heavily misted stage. The costume initially suggested a sense of role reversal, but again in Bell’s world these were the roles. At one point the men dressed in black heels character pumps and short spaghetti strapped short A-line dresses and the woman inspected and adjusted the garments. Despite the “garments” it did not emasculate the men; in this universe this was what men wore.
The music score included rap, classical, spoken work, sound and contemporary, sometimes presented alone and at other times overdubbed. Due to Bell’s choreographic craftsmanship and her skillful application of dance theatre techniques it worked as a seamless score.
Her clever video projections also moved seamlessly. Whether dancing on the back wall and morphing into different people on the blackboard; the video changes were part of the evolution and at times a symbolic unifying factor. Bell was able to make the protections their own entity as they shifting between being primary and secondary action.
Another wonderful moment was when Margolink was literally entombed under a pile of clothing. When she finally emerge her Men in Black “armor” had been removed. The imagery and metamorphic references resembled a Sidra Bell styled butterfly leaving a cocoon.
Throughout the work the dancers were able to use their strong technical prowess as structural under-pinning. In the larger context the garments they were ultimately removing, adjusting and putting on were their own skin. This made each change, and adjustment a deeper self-exploration. Bell also bravely reminded us that beauty isn’t always beautiful.
Sidra Bell Dance New York continues to carve it’s own path with a distinct and individual voice. The final performance of garment is Sunday, May 18 at 7pm. For those unable to “enter the Bell Zone” the performance will stream live. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online at baruch.cuny.edu. The performance will be streamed at sidrabelldanceny.org or by connected to this link: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/