What Is Beauty?

Photo credit: Jeremy Tressler
Frantic Beauty
Conceived and directed by Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya
Presented at BAM Fisher, NYC September 14-17, 2017

Frantic Beauty, the third installment of multidisciplinary artists Ximena Garnica and Shige Moriya's five-part BECOMING Series, offers up a challenging piece of experimental dance theater. Choreographed with and performed by the LEIMAY Ensemble (Masanori Sahara, Krystel Copper, Derek DiMartini, Omer Ephron, and Mario Galeano), it takes as its theme what its creators describe as "beauty, frantically calling out from its captivity." In doing so, the production seeks to unsettle the boundaries of the beautiful.

The performance opens with its quintet of dancers criss-crossing in front of a single, audience-facing light in the otherwise completely dark and unadorned black space of BAM’s Fishman Space. The dancer’s bodies are segmented by, rise above, and fall below planes of light, inaugurating a play with light and shadow that carries throughout. At other points, the lighting establishes an almost underwater effect, or employs slowly moving bars of light to expose the flesh underneath moving, mottled, insect-like shadows projected onto the stage and the performers. The choreography similarly deals in contrasts, juxtaposing kineticism with stasis and showcasing movements ranging from exaggerated to almost imperceptible. The ebbs and flows are unpredictable: bodies leap, spin, pile, rest prone, inch slowly along the floor, or suggest something like an organic pulsation. While sections can certainly be called frantic, they may transition suddenly into stillness. In fact, stillness and repetitive motions weave themselves throughout into choreography. Some of these repeated movements are clearly meant to be earthy, and they often convey a sense of fighting against some kind of resistance; some of them, enacted by one performer, are taken up by others (though, for the most part, the five execute their own sets of movements independently of one another). All of this suggests rather than specifies possible avenues of thematic interpretation.

The aural landscape of Frantic Beauty complements its shifting visuality, flowing among sound, quiet, and silence. It features a score by Jeff Beal, who has served as composer for shows such as Netflix’s House of Cards and HBO's too-soon-cancelled Carnivale, but that shouldn't lead one to expect a traditional sonic backdrop. While music provides some auditory accompaniment, so do the dancers’ vocalizations, including one incantatory stretch by Omer Ephron, and even rhythms created by their bodies striking the floor.

The members of the ensemble, each ornamented by strikingly colored hair, impressively mount a demanding work, perhaps especially in its moments of controlled chaos. (Derek DiMartini imparts a few particularly memorable moments.) In Frantic Beauty, dance sometimes veers closer to the bodily uncanny than to classical or mainstream notions of beauty and the body, thereby asking us to reexamine and complicate those notions. With its decidedly non-narrative engagement with its theme and high degree of experimentalist abstraction, Beauty will most directly appeal to aficionados of avant-garde dance or movement theater. - Leah Richards & John Ziegler