The final showing of “Wilderness” by the Brian Brooks Dance Company at Rockville’s ADI used repetitive, semi-explorative movement in an effort to “suspend the limits of the body and the imagination.” Eight skilled dancers of all different creeds worked with four percussive musicians in half of a stark white room, while lights occasionally changed with the different dances. Often, these dancers broke off into little vignettes of their own, with some solos, duets, and trios mixed in among the dance periods. Most of the movement consisted of sweeping, slashing and twisting motions which seldom accompanied or reacted to the music, and often went completely unexplained. Almost nothing in the show echoed its name, but perhaps that is to be expected given that it had previously been untitled for so long.
The first vignette demonstrated the movement and feel which would dominate the show. Lasting about ten minutes, this began with drumming from the musicians with a steady crescendo in both volume and pace until dancers, dressed in a questionable ensemble of collared black shirts, tight buns, and plain black pants, arrived one by one. They then began a series of twisting falls followed by lifting assistance from each other. This was an interesting display of suspension and teamwork when it first began, almost resembling waves with the rise and fall of the rhythmic drumming, but slowly became monotonous even in its wide use of space.
The second piece involved two dancers, one female and one male, acting against one another as the rest of the dancers lay on their sides. The lighting was dark, save for spotlights on the moving dancers and the drummers, and the music was mostly drums and a strange sound produced by the rubbing of a bow on a part of the drum that was unseen to the audience. Continually the woman tried to walk forward, reaching for something, as the man rolled under her and knocked her over. Her resilience was admirable until the movement happened so many times that one began to wonder why she didn’t react in a different way to grow from the situation – as the real wilderness would be undaunted by such steady attack.
The third section was perhaps the most confusing, as the entirety of it was spent by the dancers wiggling slowly on the floor. None of it seemed to move in any particular direction, and it sincerely lacked the intriguing teamwork found in the first and second sections. The dancers essentially lay in a large mass most of the time, not necessarily interacting so much as… Perhaps slithering would be the best word, although that might imply that the dancers were snake-like, and that is far from an astute observation.
The fourth section involved a solo from the same man who had tripped the woman so many times before, and was probably the most fascinating of the entire work. Over and over again he twisted in response to music made from tearing sheets of paper and scratching pens on metal. There was a sick beauty in the way he contorted his body, echoing the unnatural sounds coming from the percussion. I pondered its significance – were he and the sound emulating the idea of an office setting, cramping and destroying the natural active body? Or was it simply strange movement? I’ll sadly never know. When more dancers came up to dance with the soloist, they began another brief series of falls until once again they all lay on the floor.
Then they all flopped around like fish for ten minutes. I kid you not. I wish I could describe it more poetically, but it was essentially a series of upward pelvic thrusts and rapid flipping over of the bodies, to music which was so uninteresting I can’t recall it to describe it.
After the next two dances, one of which involved two male dancers slapping each other’s hands repeatedly to the warbled sound of songbirds set to a rewind scratch, I mentally checked out. Not even the beautiful sound of Australian Magpies could pull me back into watching this sad excuse for art. Perhaps if the dancers had actually emulated nature, with the ferocity of a tenacious magpie or the gracefulness of a songbird, I would have been more intrigued.
I began to count all the lights in the theatre. There were over 40 in all, but so misused. I watched as the three blank white walls of the set lay uncolored, unchanged, and uninteresting. Only the last three minutes of the dance were the least bit creative, as the lights finally changed to make different colored shadows on the walls, and each dancer got a brief solo moving their bodies with great focus on core connection, as different sections of their horizontal plane moved in different, competing, directions and the other dancers followed in a waving line.
Overall my disappointment with this dance is more than apparent already. I guess you could say I felt lied to, as the description read: “Choreographer Brian Brooks examines and amplifies the living, moving body in his next piece. A sculptural installation immerses his group’s latest dance in a type of three-dimensional map, designed and constructed by Brooks with lighting design by third time collaborator Joe Levasseur. Building upon a series of works that have stretched tension cables, fluorescent lights, and other industrial materials to surround both performers and audience, his new (untitled installation) aims to capture each passing moment as experienced by the dancers.” There were no stretched cables, barely any lights, no industrial materials used by the dancers, and a severe lack of three-dimensionality with regards to the unused set. I saw very little of what might be counted as, “Wilderness,” instead the staunchly lackluster set, costumes, and repetitive movement made me feel more as if I was watching an impromptu office modern dance exercise by boring people than something that had any thought in it at all. It was a shame, because there were brief moments where the work and effort made by the dancers to develop both their bodies and their movement shone through, such as during the paper-tearing snippet. Unfortunately those moments were few and far between, as the choreographer chose to have them focus on the same old movements again and again until I was almost lulled to sleep. At the end of the performance, the director came out to tell us that they had been working on the pieces for months, but didn’t combine the music and the moves until earlier this week. That would explain the wasted music and the lack of coordination between the musicians and the dancers. I wonder, however, what could possibly explain the rest of this failure. I certainly have no interest in investigating to find out.
This was written in Spring 2016 for a Modern class taught by Gail Minor-Smith at Montgomery College.