DanceLink: ASCENT | Marissa Bottino (Feb. 2013)

DanceLink: ASCENT
Saturday, February 16, 2013

By Marissa Bottino

Ascent, a cleansing, transporting, and actively contemplative evening-length work by Sarah Carlson and her company, DANCELINK, premiered at the IceHouse in Bethlehem on Saturday night. Mesmerizing vignettes and structured improvisations, paired with Meredith Monk’s voluminously hollow Songs of Ascension, ask, and humbly embody life’s most challenging questions regarding the purpose and motivation behind the human journey.

A subject as magnificent as the desire to push for ‘professional, personal, or spiritual’ perfection can easily get lost if performers are not fully invested in the moment of the piece, or if the choreography is based upon mimetically large virtuosic tricks. However, in this case, subtle movement motifs successfully act as through lines and the dancers are entirely endowed with the emotionally driven movement.

The IceHouse’s intimacy allows the audience to hear the breath emptying out of the six intelligent dancers. Wood floors and tall brick walls glorify both the hauntingly beautiful lighting designs by Benjiman Carlson, as well as the otherworldly shadows projected on the side walls.

Articulately spoken lyrics from Bruce Springsteen’s “Rising” lure the dancers into the space: “Can't see nothin' in front of me, Can't see nothin' coming up behind.” Walking backwards from all directions, six dancers find themselves in the center of the space, together in the spotlight. Carefully laying hands on one another, their bodies melt with the weights they carry. The shadows on the walls fuse them until one by one they fall out of the spotlight.

Lauren Sion, Jeffrey Peterson, and Heather Fox let Monk’s music physically move them. While Fox’s quick looks, and Peterson’s small bounces and shakes make us smile, we still wonder what is controlling them. Peterson continues this question in his solo. In an emptying and pressing breath, his energy spirals upward through his arm as he lifts his leg into an attitude side. With a tossing quality, he brushes off and away from himself. After he firmly places palms downward as if taking control, he melts to the ground, entirely emptied.

Taylor’s open posture and responsive demeanor beautifully captivate Rachel Mann’s poem, “Ascending.” Paired with the “unexpected notes” within the poem, the most poignant motif is when she grabs and covers her face with her hand, stretching her flexed palm upwards as if both shielding from and reaching for something. In a brilliant choreographic moment, Taylor sees the other performers simply standing in the dark periphery of the spotlight - watching.

One of the most powerfully simple vignettes, which embodies the entire essence of the show, begins with four dancers on the diagonal in the upstage corner. As if some greater force in the opposite corner, personified in the winding and revving soundscape, has their chests on strings, it pulls them like rag dolls or puppets. They are forced to keep going, collapsing along the way, but blank faces do not know why. In a seamless transition, they then fall and roll backwards as if knocked over by wind, ending up exactly where they started.
Carlson and Peterson’s gorgeous duet is one of the most affective vignettes of the entire work. From its use of imagery and effortless lifts to its honest performance, the duet taps into the unspeakable dynamics of human relationships. The two stand adjacent to one another, facing the audience. In slow motion, Carlson drags her hands down her face, naturally pulling the skin as if imprinting the path of falling tears. This impact takes her into a slow hinge back, looking up. Simultaneously, Peterson slowly rolls up and eventually reaches upward.

Then he melts in the same way she had. The two alternate before organically synching up. Staccato breath picks up until he kneels and takes her weight over his shoulder. Trusting one another, she supports her body from her core. In a heart-stopping moment, Carlson stands blankly facing the audience as Peterson, on the ground, grabs her leg and walks his way up to her hip, where his eyes gently soften and he presses his cheek against her body. Walking up her in desperate clutch for support, he holds her in a perpendicular hug. He grabs onto her as if touch is the most powerful human tool he has left. She subtly struggles to pull away, but keeps a blank face. They remain connected at the hands. Letting go in a breath, a rebound brings their upper bodies back to find a normal hug again. The audience sighs.