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Ghost-like ripples of light danced across two large rear-stage video screens. Six female dancers, engaged in tactile choreography, meandered slowly from a side wing of OSU’s Mershon Auditorium onto a white floor area center stage. Subtle movement united with dulcet music, video and animation wizardry, and brilliant stagecraft to create 80 minutes of serene dance-theater in the world premiere of Bebe Miller’s Necessary Beauty.
A collaborative sequel to Miller’s Bessie Award-winning Landing/Place (2005), Necessary Beauty used its plethora of multi-media elements to lull rather than scream its artistic intentions. The piece drifted from one thematic statement into another, exploring notions of everyday seen and unseen (or unnoticed) influences that trigger our perceptions of beauty. The most penetrating of those was writer Ain Gordon’s insightful text, used in recorded interviews with the dancers, in which the answers to questions like, “Do you recall when your mother stopped holding your hand to cross the street?” or “Describe the way your father sat in a chair,” were delivered in advance of the actual questions.
Throughout Necessary Beauty, its half-dozen dancers, including Miller, performed in athletic solos and small group dances that were at times playful and competitive and spoke of individuality and community. Of note were solos by an aggressive Kristina Isabelle and a red-jumpsuit-outfitted Kathleen Hermesdorf who approached the audience as if to vocalize something unutterable between sequences of gymnastic improvisation.
Migrating to and from the central stage area, the dancers traveled through expansive open wings where they lingered at times in chairs or scraped their bodies along side walls. Masterfully staged by Miller, they created human landscapes with depth and scale. Those landscapes were complemented by an ingenious video backdrop created by Maya Ciarrocchi and Vita Berezina-Blackburn that morphed outdoor and home-interior images. In the most captivating videographic moment, once-still images of a waterfall and clouded sky—from a photograph of Albert Bierstadt’s painting Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains—came to animated life.
The undercurrent guiding Necessary Beauty turned out to be Albert Mathias’ atmospheric music. Performed live on computer, it seemed to imperceptibly fade and resurface throughout the work.
In the end, Necessary Beauty delivered its own kind of beauty: subtle, enthralling, and ever so sensually satisfying.