Review: Tinted Windows Presents “no artificial preservatives” at Gibney

New York, N.Y. Presented at Gibney 280 as part of the organization’s POP: Performance Opportunity Project, the newly-formed, NYC-based Tinted Windows gave three presentations of no artificial preservatives July 26–28. Directed by founder Carly Lepore*, and with choreography equally credited to her and the three performers who join her onstage, the 40-minute work proved to be as puzzling as it was entertaining.

Haleigh Dalke performs No Artificial Preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

Haleigh Dalke was an attention-grabbing standout in no artificial preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

As the work begins, Lepore sits on the floor downstage, her back to the audience, by all appearances engaged in an animated, silent conversation with an invisible counterpart. She gestures with one hand, the other elbow resting on her knee, then sprawls back, her head cocked as though listening. Megan Paradowski and Miriam Rose, seemingly oblivious to Lepore’s presence, look to the sky, watching something far above slowly, steadily trace a path across their field of vision. Is Haleigh Dalke, lying motionless in a singular spotlight, watching the same thing? Around them Nikhil Dutta’s sound score builds into something heavy, tinged with the looming specter of tragedy, but the performers seem unaware, unaffected.

After an almost-uncomfortable span of time, things begin to shift: Lepore’s conversational gestures reach her shoulders and hips, propelling her forward into Rose’s shadow, and then back again as she oscillates between speaking and listening. Rose and Paradowski’s torsos sag and knees soften, looking up but also down, at their elbows, at their wrists—Paradowski with wide-eyed curiosity, Rose as though caught in a dream. What sounds like streaming water filters into the sound score, and Paradowski takes a wide stance, folding her torso over as Lepore is seemingly suspended in a murky, viscous liquid. Dalke, after long moments of absolute stillness, begins to shift, just a little. The beat drops.

Not much changes at first: Lepore folds and unfolds her long limbs with an origami-like simplicity and precision; Dalke’s spotlight disappears as she flails on her back. Then, Lepore performs a sweeping inversion that wipes the scene clean, bursting into phrasework with Rose that interrupts itself every few beats—a pause for silent chatter. They playfully swing back and forth with asymmetrical, repeating inversions, Lepore’s leg carving high, Rose spiraling around her own spine and just skimming the floor. Paradowski and Dalke, having slipped away, re-enter joyously (and, perhaps, somewhat smirkily) doing moves that wouldn’t be out of place several drinks into an old friend’s house party—twerking, the sprinkler, the clichéd shorthand for bad disco.

Tinted Windows in No Artificial Preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

Tinted Windows in no artificial preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

As much as they seem to have their individual, discrete agendas, the piece also interrogates how the four function as a unit—they create counterbalanced group architectures to see what happens when one falls away, accumulating a series of reactions piece by piece. They break the pattern so Dalke can support the other three, reclining to various degrees in a structure that manages to recall the final image of Balanchine’s Apollo while giving the impression of three friends sitting on the couch, watching television. They break apart again, standing separate as they play a high-stakes game with unclear stakes: one moves and the others jump to react away or toward, always watchful, always wary. Later, they huddle together, elbows and hands pulled tight toward their chests, shifting from foot to foot in unison.

Dalke cuts away from this grouping smoothly, two fingers on each hand drawing energy into her center, then shooting it back out. She moves with an expansiveness and purposeful abandon that belies her quiet stillness in the work’s opening moments—it is nowhere near the last moment in which she steals the scene in the evening. She seems to speak, but whether no words come out or we simply cannot hear her is unclear; the shoulders of the other three shake and twitch where they’re posed attentively on the floor, as though we’re watching a glitching computer simulation of a slumber party.

Miriam Rose, Haleigh Dalke and Carly Lepore perform No Artificial Preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

Miriam Rose, Haleigh Dalke and Carly Lepore perform no artificial preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

A break into jumping, traveling phrasework serves to reset the scene, snippets of Lepore and Rose’s initial duet surfacing. Out of this, Paradowski emerges. The wide-eyed exploration with which she opened the piece returns and expands, indulgent yet carrying a tinge of exhaustion. She becomes fascinated by the back of one hand, then her right foot, as her castmates writhe or lie still around her. Moments of almost-balletic reach pull her forward, then are interrupted and thrown away. She looks up nervously—searching for approval, or in anticipation of a pending rainstorm or the fall of something far less innocuous?—before trying again, reaching her arms against a collapsing sternum, flinching and skidding away from a leg reaching high to her side to land supine several feet away.

Another round of unselfconscious, dancing-in-your-best-friend’s-basement movement to wipe the slate clean; it resolves into a line, prancing and marching to a steady beat, at first facing upstage, then rotating to steadily swipe across the stage. The four break out jamming just before hitting the wings—Dalke once again steals the scene with her commitment to hitting every accent audible in the music—meeting at center to repeat the exercise. This time they find themselves prancing backwards as the stage becomes awash in green light.

Ted Boyce Smith’s lighting design grows to feel as smartly improvisatory as the remainder of the piece. Lepore shows a fair hand with carving space as the cast almost retrogrades through by-now familiar segments—Lepore and Rose’s first duet, long-duration shifts through floor-bound poses, unison prances to the beat in a tight huddle—that are remixed and, occasionally, interrupted by twitchy repetitions that increasingly bring to mind glitches in The Matrix. Dalke looks puzzled when the others spring away to peer nervously above their heads, but soon enough an infectious beat sees all four exploding into movement once more.

Miriam Rose and Carly Lepore perform No Artificial Preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

Miriam Rose and Carly Lepore perform no artificial preservatives. Photo by Andrea Pugliese, Courtesy Tinted Windows

Eventually, Rose settles with her back mostly to the audience, angled slightly toward stage right as she picks up the conversational cues and gestures left by Lepore at the beginning of the piece. At first she seems to be addressing Paradowski, who is slowly moving through a lunge to stare upward. But when Paradowski and Dalke rotate as they lie on their backs so that each of their heads is pillowed on the other’s shoulder and slowly work their way offstage, Rose continues. So, too, does Lepore, busy with a breathless, stationary retrospective of popular, goofy dance styles, many of which appeared earlier in the piece. It ends there after a pop song or two: Lepore grooves with her back to the audience and Rose silently talks, as heedless of the changing lights and music around them as they were in the beginning.

Much happens in no artificial preservatives, but little seems to change. Perhaps we, the audience, simply lack the context that the beings inhabiting this world possess. Or perhaps this is meant to be a record of a fleeting moment in time. Lepore may test our attention, but it is imminently clear that the people inside of the work know exactly what they’re doing and why.

 

*Disclosure: I overlapped with Lepore and the members of Tinted Windows at NYU Tisch School of the Arts.

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Courtney Escoyne is an associate editor at Dance Magazine. A graduate of NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Dance, her writing can also be read in Pointe and Dance Teacher, and on her blog, Thoughts From a Ballet Nerd.

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