Masks separate the performer from the audience. The human quality and nuances of emotion expressed in the face are hidden. Masks turn an individual into an abstraction.
Saturday night at Dance Place, Ludovic Jolivet placed his two dancers from CityDance Ensemble in expressionless masks for almost the entirety of his work, "Forgotten Consciousness: Meeting Apart." The concept worked: The performers were stripped of humanity, and the work hinted at why.
Both dancers were dressed in business suits. Their movement was often encumbered -- at first the female dancer (Ha-Chi Yu) moved with a long rope attached to her waist and extending into opposite wings. Clipped on it were pieces of paper.
The male dancer (Bruno Augusto) emerged for his solo suspended from a harness inside a metal structure that looked like a cage on wheels. He could spin inside it and extend his arms, but looked helpless.
On a screen behind the dancers, images were projected -- sped-up scenes of traffic in downtown Washington.
The dancers, maskless when projected on-screen, walked with blank stares down city sidewalks like cogs in a capitalist machine. Words including "Produce," "Generate" and "Consume" scrolled past.
The video images threatened to overpower the dancers' simple movements, especially when clips from commercials and TV shows were shown in quick succession. It was almost impossible to pay attention to the real-life performers, but perhaps that was Jolivet's comment on our plugged-in culture.
The only real human connection happened on-screen. In a city park the unmasked dancers held each other and locked eyes, maybe illustrating fantasy, in contrast with reality.
At the end, in a hopeful moment after so much dehumanization, the dancers removed their masks, touched foreheads and locked eyes in an intimate embrace.
-- Kirsten Bodensteiner