REVIEW: Morphoses “WITHIN” at the Joyce Theater
Having seen Pontus Lidberg’s dance film Labyrinth Within when it premiered two years ago, I really didn’t know what to expect with WITHIN — a new creation by Lidberg and Morphoses that embeds the 28-minute short in an hour-long creation of film and live dance.
After all, just the medium of film can easily overpower the subtleties of live performance. Add in Labyrinth’s exquisite cinematography, setting and cast starring Wendy Whelan, and you almost pity anyone who has to compete.
At the work’s New York premiere at The Joyce last week, though, there was no competition between stage and screen. To the credit of Lidberg and the dancers of Morphoses, the live-danced sections enhance the emotive power of the film, as much as the film amplifies the expressive power of dance.
The result of this harmony between two art forms, woven together by David Lang’s haunting score, is an immersive aesthetic and mood that has consistently been described as dreamlike. Opening with Lidberg prone and twisting, as if having a tormented dream, the work explores the emotions and imaginings of five interconnected lives.
In contrast to the narrative nature of Labyrinth, which tells the story of a husband and wife who have grown distant, the staging of WITHIN is more poetic, priming the audience with a mood of uncertainty and introspection before the film is presented in the second half.
…”the live-danced sections enhance the emotive power of the film, as much as the film amplifies the expressive power of dance.”
Symbolism abounds: red poppies dot the stage, bringing to mind sleep, remembrance and the dulling of pain. As dancers perform a series of solos, duets and trios on stage, their filmed counterparts dance on a screen behind them in settings of subconscious significance (a placid shore, a lush wood, a mirror).
The screen is not merely a backdrop, however. As the dancers interact with their own filmed images, the screen takes on its own meaning as a display for projected thoughts and feelings. At other times, it becomes a transparent veil that blurs the figures behind it, and at others, it is an opaque, shadowy wall behind which figures can vanish.
While symbols provide a psychological portal into the world of WITHIN, the high-contact choreography provides a kinesthetic one. Relationships and the dynamics within them are suggested figuratively: pushing and pulling, supporting and resisting, the dancers move between these extremes with a fluidity that hints at the complexity of human interactions.
Grounded, flowing and never showy, Lidberg’s distinctive style is not what one might typically expect of a star ballet cast that includes Adrian Danchig-Waring (NYCB), Isabella Boylston (ABT), Jens Weber (Ballets de Monte-Carlo), Gabrielle Lamb (Grands Ballets Canadiens) and Laura Mead (American Repertory Ballet). And yet, the clear loyalty between the dancers and the choreographer, himself an accomplished ballet dancer, reflects his own reverence for the classical tradition, even as he freely moves beyond it.
Dreamy and experimental as WITHIN is, it is Lidberg’s meticulous attention to detail and respect for form and structure — in dance, in film and in their combination — that ultimately make it work. While many choreographers attempt to combine dance and film, it is exciting to see an artist who has both the technical skill and the creative vision to meld them in a way that feels like an evolution — the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Going into the performance, what I expected to discover was how Lidberg built live dance around a film I’d already seen. What I didn’t expect, however, was how dance would allow me to rediscover the film.
Given that it is the aim of Morphoses, in the words of executive director Lourdes Lopez, to “expand the horizons of dance, and use the expressive power of dance to enrich our experience of other art forms,” WITHIN is a clear triumph for the shape-shifting company.