A man ran his hands over his torso, while a projection of a woman doing the same thing overlaid his body perfectly—it was as though two lovers literally became one person (with four arms). Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman, the choreographers and performers of Bridgman/Packer Dance, used life-size video projection and live dance in an evening that evoked intimacy, humanity, memory and transience—but left me feeling a bit underwhelmed.
The company’s October 12 performance at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts opened with a saxophonist (Ken Field) playing along to a pre-recorded jazz track. It was the aural equivalent of the dance/video play to come—a live body interacting with a previously recorded version of himself. It was as though he was playing along at home, using the materials at hand to provide himself with a band.
The first half of the evening, Under the Skin (2005), projected images onto a large black curtain and onto the dancers’ bodies and costumes. Live video of the dancers joined canned footage, streams of text, computer animations, nucleotide sequences, and rain. The light textures on the dancers’ bodies was visually overwhelming—I could not keep up with the details of the text design as it rippled on their moving bodies. Another section featured Bridgman and Packer in identical costumes-white tank tops and hoop skirts, used as projection surfaces for half of the other dancer (Packer’s dancing legs were projected on Bridgman’s still skirt, for example). The dancers slid in and out of the curtain, vanishing and reappearing in digital and physical forms so smoothly that the audience was surprised at times to realize they hadn’t been watching the actual dancer. Packer fussed with projections of Bridgman’s suit and tie projected onto her torso. The blurring of characters with each other, with genetic data, and with language produced a curiously satisfying artifact-as though none of us can quite tell where we begin or end, where streams of data create bodies and where our bodies create data.
Double Expose (2010), the second half, was supported by a technical residency at the Ordway, and the technically demanding piece deserved it. The black curtains were replaced with a white screen. In this piece, it’s hard to count the iterations of video/real dancers: The dancers performed in front of the screen, behind it, and on the sides while live video was projected onto the screen. The screen displayed rear and front projections, as well as layers of live video intermingling. Shots of the two dancers as various characters throughout New York dominated the piece, and at any given moment, you might see the dancers on New York streets, alongside the screen, projected live onto the screen and/or dancing live behind or in front of it.
Though the video work was more developed and complex in Double Expose, the piece as a whole failed to cohere—long stretches of colorful background animation, unrelated and uncompelling characters, and an overwhelming amount of sensory data rendered it confusing. The strongest sections had the dancers appearing ghostlike on the busy and oblivious streets of New York, popping unexpectedly out of archways and vanishing into darkness, but I lost the narrative thread as the piece shifted into an extended sequence of the characters sleeping or dancing together in pairs. Occasionally, I wondered why the video and dance interacted at all. In one scene, the dancers lay on the floor and a birds’ eye camera captured them. Their presence on stage became unimportant and it began to feel like they were just doing tricks for us—showing off their impeccable timing as they interacted with their video selves.
They’re not the only group playing with video and live performance, of course. Moments throughout the evening called to mind other performances. Claude Wampler’s PERFORMANCE (career ender) at the Walker projected footage onto smoke in a hauntingly ethereal image; BodyCartography’s Holiday House used bodies as screens and video as a set (Southern Theater); and Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts’ Stranger (also at the Southern) layered video with live performance to create trails of where the dancers had already been. But each of those pieces lingered on the strange visions brought about by the interaction of video on bodies or spaces, where Double Expose in particular seems determined to entertain and enchant. They used more cameras and more projectors to create dozens of iterations, but the content felt driven by the technological wonder as much as by the desire to communicate. The physical enjoyment carried it along well enough, though—Bridgman and Packer have created digital versions of themselves to dance and play with, teasing the images as the images tease them right back.
It reminded me of watching magicians, or of going through the Haunted Mansion as a child at Disneyland. The audience tittered throughout, eager to be startled by the next deft illusion. The execution was deft, to be sure-the eye was dazzled by the precise interactions with their video selves. The work conjured images of lost lovers, imaginary friends, bodies with too many limbs, or ghosts on the street, but the strength of those images were undercut by the actual movement, which relied too heavily on partnering tropes. I wanted the work to linger in the sadness or freakishness it created, not just skip to the next clownish, sweet mug at the audience or the next virtuosic lift.
You can’t see the show in the Twin Cities any longer, but next time you’re singing along with a song at home, don’t forget the singer and the band, off in some distant studio on some long-past day, and maybe have a little fun with your own digital, eternally available plaything.