American Dance Institute, Rockville, MD; September 19, 2014
Following two well-received New York City performances (“Everything You See” was nominated for a “Bessie” for “outstanding production” in 2013), Vicky Shick brought “Everything You See” to Rockville, Maryland’s American Dance Institute (ADI). Three new performers joined the cast at ADI, which ranged in age and size, and even included one who was seven months pregnant (Marilyn Maywald). Also performing was Shick herself (who danced for six years with the Trisha Brown Company), and Dance Magazine’s former Editor-in-Chief Wendy Perron (also once a dancer with Brown).
“Everything You See” was easy to enjoy. There was a relaxed quality to the dancing that made it pleasant to watch. Yet it was not so casual that it lacked interest. To the contrary, the work completely held my attention and that of the three elementary school aged girls seated in front of me. One challenge, however, was where to focus one’s attention. Or maybe it wasn’t a challenge after all?
“Everything You See” is purposefully constructed in a manner that invites the eyes of the audience to roam. The audience sits on both sides of the theater, with the dancing in between. In the middle of the central stage, hanging from a suspended bar, is a large mass of dark see-through fabric, which gives off a bit of sheen and shadow. Through the filmy screen divided the space in half, one could see the entire stage, including the dancers on either side, but those visible through the mesh curtain were seen less clearly, as if through a smudged lens.
Carol Mullins lighting design and Barbara Kilpatrick’s set made it possible for one to take in everything, but because the 11 dancers were often dancing in small groups, on both sides of the screen simultaneously, one’s attention naturally changed throughout the work. At one moment, I watched those closest to me, and the next I stared through the screen and watched another group on the opposite side. While it could have been a frustrating experience knowing I was missing parts of what was taking place on stage, I found I was perfectly comfortable with the setup. For me, at least, it was fun to be extra conscious of my shifts in gaze.
The sound design by Elise Kermani and costumes by Barbara Kilpatrick complimented the free flowing dance composition. A country tune, an African beat, and music that evoked the circus combined to good effect with buzzes, crackles, and whirs, plus a few honks and sirens. The costumes were both whimsical and pedestrian, with lots of textures, colors, and patterns thrown in the mix. Even though the various artistic choices were eclectic, they blended harmoniously, and “Everything You See” came across not as a peculiar mishmash of dance, sound, costumes, set design, and lighting, but as an expertly crafted whole. Indeed, what sets “Everything You See” apart from a lot of contemporary dance I’ve seen was the high level of professionalism and smooth execution of Shick’s vision.
The work reminded me how rewarding repetition and dancing in unison can be for an audience. These things didn’t happen terribly often, but when they did, they drew together the fragments of solos, duets, and other groupings in a satisfying way. I observed with a smile an amusing little waddle the dancers did, feet scooting forward in an almost penguin-like shuffle, one dancer glued directly behind another’s behind. Other repeats included arms stretched long on either side of the body and tilted like a child playing airplane; dancers jutting out their chins; thigh slaps, and wrists twisting, on occasion right beneath the chin like a nervous squirrel. Oh, and there was a small square table that the performers sometimes used, and that I failed to notice remained exclusively on the side of the stage closest to me until I was informed by friends who sat across the stage that it did not appear on their side until very end.
Somehow, “Everything You See” reminded me of life in general, of the human interactions we have on a daily basis, of the people we seek out and like spending time with and those we have only brief exchanges with or utterly ignore, and how these exchanges and relationships breathe and continue. The layers of sound, costumes, and dance reveal stories. Even though I didn’t know what the stories were, exactly, they definitely evoked emotion and I related to them. And even though the dancing wasn’t truly virtuosic, it touched me nonetheless. A great success.