Jennifer Monson/BIRD BRAIN Dance/Iland

Jennifer Monson, Alex Escalante, Katy Pyle, and Eleanor Hullihan in Monson’s Flight of Mind
Photo by Julieta Cervantes, courtesy Jennifer Monson

 

Jennifer Monson/BIRD BRAIN Dance/Iland
Colony Theater, Miami Beach, FL
March 25, 2006
Reviewed by Guillermo Perez

 

In dance, birds have always been close to us. As Edwin Denby pointed out in Forms in Motion and Thought, they show off “dance inventions that strikingly resemble our own . . . they compose their piece out of contrasted energetic and gliding motions, . . . reiterated gestures, . . . circular paths and straight lines.” For Jennifer Monson, however, years of research into avian migratory paths and habitats have yielded more than choreographic motifs. The birds have taught the New York-based artist much about accommodation, tenacity, and the ploys of instinct as well as contrivance. On the wings of this awareness, her Flight of Mind landed in South Florida before heading west, exposing theatergoers to the ways of nature and extending to local environmentalists the ways of art.

Performing alongside Alex Escalante, Eleanor Hullihan, and Katy Pyle, the choreographer presented birdlike moves, including agitated strides and engrossed one-legged stands. And the flutter of these scraggy episodes took place amid potted invasive plants and ambient pulsations. (Kenta Nagai designed the electronic soundscape.) Throughout their runs the dancers could act as disruptive presences (strewing about Styrofoam, for instance) or benign assemblies accommodating to the area (linked hand-in-hand or huddled as if braving the elements). A parody of Swan Lake’s cygnet pas de quatre played for easy laughs, yet that gag conformed to a caveat against romanticizing nature that Monson voiced in a post-performance discussion. Apparently, romantic flights of fancy like Ivanov’s are not to be taken seriously on current artistic agendas. Threats to the environment—weeds might clog the lake; rot might clip the swan wings—are worse than any wicked wizard.

Packaging with ecological intent made the message more impressive than most of the task-oriented dance segments, despite committed performances and passages of rousing energy or true entrancement. Before and after the show, representatives from entities including Everglades National Park and the Institute of Wildlife Sciences joined the call to sensitize audiences to the endangerment of natural surroundings. Fail to protect the birds or their stopping-off places, and soon enough dance and bird lovers alike will have to contend with a world of diminished inspiration. See www.birdbraindance.org.

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