Review by Robert Egert
Dance is so often a spectacle, a kind of voyeuristic experience. As a member of the audience you typically sit on your ass and watch the performers do all the work. If it’s good, when it’s all over, you clap.
4CHAMBERS, Jody Oberfelder’s ambitious and engaging new piece, turns everything about that experience on its head while preserving explorations of formalism and expression through movement.
Somewhere between a fun house and a laboratory, the choreographer has discarded many of the unquestioned assumptions about performance including the concept of an audience, in order to mine the rich possibilities of an immersive and interactive performance experience.
Instead of a traditional the audience participation in the piece is limited to no more than twelve people who move through a series of specially constructed rooms and corridors, led by dancers who act as both performers and docents. Because there is no audience and all the participants are engaged I found it was truly difficult to feel self-conscious about moving and participating, despite the anxiety I felt beforehand.
Each room provides an immersive, interactive experience that explores a distinct vector into the human heart. For example, one austere yet strangely comforting room includes movements that (among other things) raise and lower the dancers’ heartbeat, while in another room a tongue-in-cheek ELIZA-like interrogation allows participants to explore their inner longings. In each instance we’re given the opportunity to physically sense or palpate the heart; our own and that of the dancers.
Like a fun house, not everything is as it appears: what seems like prerecorded video actually shifts and responds to what you say; situations that initially appear audience-driven suddenly morph into tightly choreographed passages. This results in a continuous series of delightful surprises. It goes well beyond breaking down the forth wall and enables participants to connect with performers and directly influence the complexion of the performance in surprising ways. While there are few explicit rules, it is interesting how the dancer/docents project authority and communicate clear rules and etiquette for participant’s behavior exclusively through movement.
Ultimately 4CHAMBERS is an investigation into the physiologic and psychodynamic dimensions of the heart, mirroring the active and passive states of the heart muscle itself. The genius of the piece emerges as we discover how our experience is at once driven by our inner dialogue and yet circumscribed by choreography.
Oberfelder is currently working with a rotating group of Brooklyn-based dancers for this production. She and her team have transformed the basement of the Arts@Rennaisance into a mysterious and surprising environment. While executed with rigor and austerity her work is, as always, fun, engaging, and memorable.
4CHAMBERS with Megan Bascom, Zachary Denison, Rayvawn Johnson, Joey Kipp, Mary Madsen, Lonnie Poupard, Jr., Shane Rutkowski, Mercedes Searer, Lily Bo Shapiro, and on-film performances by Ishmael Houston Jones, Edward Einhorn, Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Dr. Andre Fenton, Sarah Trignano, Lonnie Poupard, Jr., Christina Noel Reaves, Jake Szczypek, and Jessica Weiss
Video by Jason Bahling, lighting by Kryssy Wright, sets by Juergen Riehm, sound design by Sean Hagerty, stage manager: Katie Houff, music by Matt McBane, Richard Einhorn, Jonathan Melville Pratt, and dramaturgy by Pele Bauch.
2 Kingsland Avenue (@ Maspeth Avenue) Brooklyn, NY 11211 Garden Level
Tickets and information: here.
January 22 – March 22
Thursdays at 6:30pm & 8pm
Fridays & Saturdays at 7pm and 8:30pm.
Tickets are $60 for all performances before February 1 and $75 after.