CHRIS ELAM/MISNOMER DANCE THEATER: BEING TOGETHER
Misnomer Dance Theater dancers bend in ways human bodies are not meant to bend. At times they even painful to watch. Dancers flip their arms behind their heads as if both shoulders have simultaneously been dislocated, and I swear I saw one dancer raise her leg to the point where her barefoot was practically touching the nape of her neck. On Thursday, July 16th, I watched the Brooklyn-based Misnomer Dance Theater perform through webbed hands as if I was viewing a horror movie: scared to see what could happen next, but also too fascinated to look away.
Misnomer's artistic director Chris Elam has been choreographing for eighteen years, and at Concord Academy's Summer Stages Dance, he joined his company for two parts of the three-part performance "Being Together." Misnomer's inclusion in this small but remarkable festival speaks of Summer Stages Dance's commitment to bringing unique and talented performers to Concord. Though at times Misnomer choreography had the dancers moving as if they were teenagers after a growth spurt—all limbs and no grace—they were nonetheless beguiling to watch. Elam is not afraid to test the boundaries of aesthetics, and moreover, he wants the audience take part in his crazy experiment.
The first piece of the evening, "Too Late Tulip," was a loose representation of a relationship. The number began with three nymph-like women frolicking on stage in earth-tone dresses. They were soon joined by a couple, man and woman, who danced both together and against each other. Their movements often began lyrically and then warped to form unexpected shapes (e. g., the female lead raised her pointed foot only to bend it towards her chest as if preparing for a yoga stretch, and the male lead lifted another dancer slowly and then lowered her into a frantic spin as if she weighed no more than a doll). This quirky opening act was a good warm-up for the outrageous "Rock. Paper. Flock." that followed.
"Rock. Paper. Flock" began with Elam coming on stage and explaining that this piece was going to be a real time creative journey. He then put on his "choreographer's hat," an old fashion pilot's barnstormer cap complete with huge goggles, and proceeded to direct his five dancers. "Coco, please do what I'm thinking." (At which point the petite Coco Karol stuck out her tongue and blubbered her lips.) "Dancers, this is beautiful. Just keep doing what you're doing... okay stop." Among other things, Elam had them become trophies and form bizarre family "photographs," and at times it was so chaotic on stage it was a wonder no one came out of a pose with a bloody nose.
When Elam joined in he dismissed some dancers, but the ones he kept stripped down until all were wearing circus-orange frilly leotards. Elam balanced off dancer Val Loukiano by sticking his outstretched foot in Loukiano's face and he mock fought Karol—who had been ordered to morph into a mysterious beast—with a manic energy. He put his own spin on Karol's choreography by warping his body as if he was held together with skin and muscle alone.
Even after the final piece "Zipper," a fun light number, I was still not certain if Elam had been mocking himself as the eccentric choreographer in "Rock. Paper. Flock." Was he making fun of the choreographer's ego? Or was he being completely honest with the audience about his artistic process?
Like the art he creates, Elam himself is perplexing and open to interpretation.
All images are via the Misnomber Dance blog.