Review: Brigid Baker’s ‘Remain in Light’ shows love for nature’s gorgeous strangeness
The newest work by the progressive dance company brigid baker wholeproject takes its name from the 1980 Talking Heads album, “Remain in Light.” Both the album and Brigid Baker’s choreographies bring to the forefront the issue of repetition: Can repetition trigger a new and different experience for what presents itself as familiar and taken for granted?
The dance company – which performed from Oct. 31 through Nov. 3 at Miami-Dade County Auditorium’s On.Stage Black Box Theatre – offered inventive responses to this question.
One of the opening numbers featured Beninese singer-songwriter Angelique Kidjo’s cover of the Talking Heads’ “The Overload.” As Kidjo crooned, “I value these moments,” a film clip showed a piglet squid against the back wall floating tranquilly through a turquoise ocean. It was the first of the evening’s striking, tongue-in-cheek video shorts.
Much of the program’s music took the form of a chant, especially evident in a piece by the Soundwalk Collective with Patti Smith and Sheikh Ibrahim. As the singers repeated a Kurdish mantra, the dancers – draped in white, loose-fitting robes – circled the stage like acolytes, carrying overhead ottoman-sized polyhedrons, 6-foot papier mâché tentacles, a large golden star and a horse’s head sculpted from green mesh. Their ritual behavior seemed calculated to summon a child-like disposition in the dancers and the audience members.
“Born under Punches” opened the first of four Sufi-esque dance sequences. Circling the stage at a run – dance slippers glowing neon blue, orange and pink – the dancers wafted their arms overhead through a bluish ultraviolet light. As Talking Heads singer David Byrne began his refrain, “I’m a tumbler,” they shifted to the side and sent a wave from head to ankles. Sometimes the dancers schooled like a group of fish along the diagonal or shuffled out a jazzy quick-quick-slow in place, heads nodding meditatively before shooting their arms forward and hustling off at random angles.
The intensity of the group coordination between dancers Meredith Barton, Nadina Liberatore, Amy Trieger, Liony Garcia, Juliana Trivino, and Isaiah Gonzalez was jaw-dropping. All evening, group sequences shared consistent gestural precision and terrific energy – whether the dancers simultaneously mirrored the percussion’s syncopations with the shoulders and knees or bounced as a group across the diagonal.
For the Heads’ classic, “Crosseyed and Painless,” the dancers donned orange crowns crafted from mop heads and grabbed toy shovels as a film sequence of a goldfish floated across the backdrop. Circling the floor with long strides, the dancers jabbed the shovels forward or slapped them together making a constant percussion line accompanying Byrne’s refrain, “Still waiting.” With its complicated rhythmic games, out-of-the-box costuming and humor, “Crosseyed and Painless” was a highlight of the evening.
This was followed by the program’s most successful video segment. As the Frank Sinatra song, “How Deep is the Ocean” played, a mammoth blanket octopus unfurled across the screen, its skin shimmering in waves of purple, blue, fuchsia and tangerine. When “Ol’ Blue Eyes” belted, “And if I ever lost you, how much would I cry,” the octopus gradually vanished into the sea’s midnight depths.
The dance number, “Once in a Lifetime,” offered a final extraordinary choreography. A combination of dance and theater, the six dancers pantomimed individual reads of Byrne’s refrain, “this is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife,” while playfully singling out audience members with fluorescent pink index fingers. The dancers poured out the energy for this last piece, kicking to the sides, bouncing and bobbing their heads, strutting to the corners then breaking into an ecstatic mosh pit at the center.
Again, Baker’s visuals were signature lavish here with images of cranberry-infused flowing water the central theme of the video. Hung above the stage, picture frames sporting neon blue, green and yellow arrows pointed toward the sky.
The program closed with Bob Dylan singing a cover of Sinatra’s “Some Enchanted Evening” as an octopus parachuted open then flowed across the screen like a lovely woman in a ball gown slowly waltzing through an emerald light.
With the audience on its feet and still applauding, Baker – dressed like one of her exotic visuals – summed up the program’s message in one line, “A straight line exists between you and the good thing.” With the subject of the environment now a constant source of alarm, brigid baker wholeproject’s “Remain in Light” acted as a reminder that it is still possible to choose differently, from a spirit of playfulness and love for nature’s gorgeous strangeness.