It was a banner weekend for experimental European electronic composers who enjoy collaborating with Washington-based modern dance companies. Yes, that’s experimental composers plural: There were two, both improvising on electric guitar.
Friday night, the Spanish embassy bankrolled a world premiere performance by Company E, flying in DJ and composer Miguel Lopez Mora to create a live electronic score. His fluid segues between a keyboard, guitar and computer monitor at stage left were the most interesting thing about “Y,” a slow, meandering work that felt very much as if it had been pasted together by the committee of dancers who performed it. Paul Gordon Emerson, Company E’s executive director, called the composer “a genius,” pointing out during his introduction that while the choreography was months in the making, Mora had created the score in just two days after flying in from Madrid.
Worthwhile international artistic exchange is possible, it seems, even on an austerity budget. That should be the consensus of those who attended both Company E’s show at the Lansburgh Theatre and a performance by Bowen McCauley Dance on Saturday night at the Artisphere. In theory, Austria should have upped the ante, funding the debut of “Afoot in Vienna,” the result of a nearly 18-month collaboration between Viennese composer Wolfgang Seierl and Arlington-based choreographer Lucy Bowen McCauley.
In the summer of 2011, McCauley traveled to Vienna and allowed Seierl to film her improvising movement on location. The footage was meant to serve only as inspiration, but back on their respective continents, choreographer and composer decided that the film should be a backdrop for their live performance, with McCauley’s movements for the dancers divined from her improvisatory stretching. Seierl, meanwhile, would compose a score inspired by the sounds of each location.
The resulting work premiered at the Artisphere’s Dome Theatre and, unfortunately, the live collaboration failed to exceed its own high-concept expectations.
This was no “Before Sunrise” or “Sound of Music” tour of Vienna. Not that it needed to be, but the cafes, parks and studios are so nondescript, they could be in any city. Seierl’s minimalist picking on an electric guitar, layered over ambient noise, sounded more like an amateurish indulgence than an atonal introspection.
Each of the eight movements began with one or more of the six dancers assuming the same position McCauley held in the film beamed above the stage. Three movements stood out. “Sand” found McCauley digging her pointed toes into the gravely edges of the Danube Canal. The dancers mimicked her motion on the carpeted stage, which was a terrible surface to dance on but lent itself well to scratching. In “Stone,” the ensemble mimicked a narrow stone hallway, with one dancer caught in the middle, ricocheting off bodies instead of walls. The finale, “Steps and Stairs,” sent the dancers up the narrow, nearly vertical aisles of the theater. Using the railings as barres, they executed a series of tendus and pliés. The final image was of dancers dangling their necks over the railings, an appropriately awkward way to end an evening about bending over backward to make art.
Ritzel is a freelance writer.