“There will be an intense amount of activity in a confined space, stone, noise, dust, machines hammers, and hands followed by stillness. Then comes the creek flood – high drama…” So read the preshow scrim of “boulders and bones.” Downstage of it Jeremy Smith and Maggie Stack casually arranged sticks the size of yarrow stocks creating a mockett–like those used by Scottish environmental art sculptor, Andy Goldworthy. “boulders and bones” is a tribute to Goldworthy drawing its inspiration chiefly from a site specific piece called, “Culvert Cairn” that was created in Marin, California in 2013. Documentary footage of that installation was part of the opening of “bones” which was a stunning collaboration between virtuoso cellist, Zoë Keating–who was commissioned to compose the score–with innovative photographer and filmmaker RJ Muna, and celebrated lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols.
“boulders and bones” began with Muna’s impressive video clips of a rock quarry floating across the scrim and up stage set. The boulders were as large as the stage, creating a rust, gold, and slate colored palette. The set duplicated the shape of the culvert that Goldworthy was seen creating in the time lapsed film. This footage projected onto both set and dancers, glided effortlessly across the stage giving it a cinematic presence and big screen feeling. The visuals were stunning and include Erin Wang (replacing Zoë Keating) playing the electronically layered provocative score from within the tunnel opening on a self-lit platform. Over the duration of the performance, that neo-pagoda-like platform was moved by dancers around the stage as part of the choreography and as another captivating visual element. Wardrobe, which was created by a variety of ODC designers, caught the video projections on white blousy tops and shirts as well as the colored pigment that dancers tossed into thin air—reminiscent of how Goldworthy introduces color into natural environments. Particularly timeless was the use of skirts over losing fitting leggings with shirtless torsos of the male dancers which, when lined up alluded to Egyptian hieroglyphs and to Martha Graham’s iconic styling.
The combined effect of these powerfully impacting and sophisticated production elements, including Keating’s mesmerizing score, sat a very high bar for the choreography to match–which it failed to do during the first of three segments. While these other elements of “bones” came on forcefully with a decisive direction, the choreography by contrast floundered at first for its overriding style, feeling at times cliché, frenetic, and pseudo chaotic. Dancers ran on and off stage, arms waving, slapping, or banging into each other to create a tension that seems unwarranted, even as it juxtaposes a lyrical score and attempted to recreate the tension that Goldworthy did hammering away at granite. “There will be an intense amount of activity in a confined space…”
The choreography gradually matured during the last two segments when a more synchronized style emerged–allowing the ensemble to meld and dance as solidly as their creative environment. Plenty of exquisite combinations and innovated perks followed as this evolution unfolded, eventually converging like flood waters through a tunnel to become a single force of nature. Perhaps this slow start had to do with the fact that this is only the second choreographic collaboration between ODC founder and artistic director Brenda Way and co-artistic director KT Nelson, who have worked independently for four decades.
“boulders and bones” is a formidable dance even as it drifts in and out of its ambitious and visionary trajectory, ripening organically in front of you. And, while it is just shy of a masterful work, it is a fine homage to the masterful artist it honors.