Rena Butler (top) and Elena Valls in Walls Are Here to Fall Photo Lora Robertson

Rena Butler (top) and Elena Valls in Walls Are Here to Fall
Photo Lora Robertson

Fishman Space, BAM Fisher, Brooklyn, NY
September 4, 2015

Jerry Hochman

Satellite Collective is an interconnected group of artists committed to generating interdisciplinary performance works, publications, and other arts-related endeavors. An ‘Arts Umbrella’ of sorts, it gathers, cross-pollinates, incubates, disseminates, and presents works of art in a variety of modes that are somewhat outside the mainstream. Founded in 2010 and based in New York, the group has accumulated a significant number of contributing artists, some directly affiliated with the organization, some independent.

For its second BAM season, the group presented an avant-garde variety show. The program consisted of seven components, each of which, to one extent or another, was artistically interdisciplinary: a poetry reading; a cello composition; a suite of music created by four different composers; a short animated film (though calling it ‘animated’ is probably a misnomer); and three dances – a solo; a multi-media piece for three dancers (two live and one on film); and a dance for four that closed the program. The latter, Walls Are Here to Fall, was the most compelling.

Walls Are Here to Fall is an impressive (albeit somewhat self-indulgent) piece of choreography, and an equally impressive feat of athleticism for the dancers. Created by Manuel Vignoulle, formerly of Cedar Lake Contemporary Dance and the Geneva Ballet to a composition by Satellite Collective’s Music Director Nick Jaina, the dance is a feast of complex simplicity.

However, the piece does go on far longer than is necessary to make its statement about breaking down barriers (it takes its name from a writing on the Berlin Wall), and the cinematic projection of an urban landscape of buildings that occasionally punctuates the action on stage is somewhat superfluous. And choreographically, it’s as much acrobatics as dance, although this isn’t Olympic acrobatics, it’s grounded, intricate, and intimate movement that explores individual and group interconnectivity.

While the dancers’ athleticism is apparent, the dance is not about athleticism. It is movement with a message. In the process, daisy chains yield to body-over-body tumbles, awkward positioning and body manipulation morphs into unexpected balances and lifts, dancers hold others back or propel others forward, and individual battles become mass struggles against unnamed forces. The identical costumes of pure white tops and bottoms create a visual image of simplicity and uniformity that perfectly complements and highlights the choreographic complexity. And the dancers – Elena Valls, Rena Butler, Isaies Santamaria, and Gage Self – were, individually and collectively, as fascinating and exciting to watch as was the choreography.

The first dance on the program was a solo choreographed by Devin Alberda, a New York City Ballet corps member. Individuate visualizes a form of awakening – of and from what is not clear, but that didn’t make it incomprehensible. Like the Vignoulle piece, it has complex movement patterns and yet a look of uncomplicated innocence. And as executed by Michaela Mann, Individuate looks pure as a newborn faun.

In dim light, Mann, a graduate student at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts who trained at NYCB’s School of American Ballet, hesitantly emerges from a resting, squatting pose, gradually acclimating to her body, environment, and movement capabilities. As the lighting (by Brandon Stirling Baker) brightens, the exquisite gold and white unitard created by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung makes Mann appear textured as well as somewhat other-worldly. As Mann becomes whatever being she is destined to be, Alberda’s choreography unfolds with deceptive simplicity. The balletic movement is smooth with just a hint of angularity, and an Asian/Indian sensibility adds to the exotic air, which Jaina’s accompanying score enhances. With Mann’s cool, shimmering stage presence and Alberda’s crystalline choreography, Individuate is a small-scale delight.

A Pair of Ideal Landscapes, however, is an experiment in visual texture that misses the mark. The concept is too broad and nebulous, the choreography is essentially uninteresting, and the three components of the piece – dance, film, and music – don’t gel. Live dance accompanied by visual projection is nothing new, but usually there’s some connection between the two that creates, at least, visual interest. Here there was no such connection. I got the intersecting ‘landscapes’, but the two might as well have been separately hung paintings.

Choreographed by Esme Boyce, the piece presents two live dancers (Boyce and Christopher Ralph), and images of another (Kit McDaniel) captured on film by Lora Robertson and then projected on the stage wall. Boyce, a Juilliard graduate, is a striking dancer who adds visual texture just by her presence, but except for some brief welcome moments, the duet with Ralph is a collection of moving images. This might have been Boyce’s intent – some sort of emotional landscape. Perhaps separated from the projected visual image, the live choreography might have inspired a more positive response. But the projection – a collage of images of McDaniel in various poses, some moving and some static; some striking and some visually monotonous – diminished the live dance. And neither made particular sense presented with Richie Greene’s score.

Interspersed with these dance pieces were the other artistic presentations that comprised the eclectic program. Of the four, Water, composed and performed by cellist David Moss, and Music for Dance, a suite of compositions by Jaina, Greene, Nathan Langston and Amanda Lawrence, were particularly impressive. Moss’s piece is both delicate and soulful, and the suite, a superb compilation of aural imagery. I found the poetry (I Can Help You) by Skeith Ulvang to be curious – Ulvang is a stand-up poet. Although competently put together as a work of semi-animated art, the film by Robertson, titled Edie Leaves Twice, is considerably less coherent.

But breaking down each component of Satellite Collective’s program is somewhat beside the point. What made this evening interesting, and to a large extent successful, is its multi-disciplinary comprehensiveness. As a whole, it was an impressive accomplishment, and an event considerably more entertaining than simply being the sum of its individual artistic parts.