Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 5, 2009

The Disappearing Woman

Berkshire Fringe
Daniel Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
August 3, 2009
by Emily List

The Disappearing Woman was a visually captivating collaboration between four acclaimed performers and the digital media practices that drive their actions. The program, choreographed and danced by Nell Breyer, Alissa Cardone, Lorraine Chapman and Bronwen MacArthur, addressed problems of self-expression in a world where the self is constantly manipulated and reconstructed through video-imagery, digital photos and other technological forms. Just as images of the dancers were elongated, fragmented, inverted and projected on the walls of the auditorium, the women's movements constantly shifted in nature, from elastic arm extensions and fluid arabesques to stilted, jarring walks and violent drops to the floor. More often than not, digital media threatened to envelope the human forms completely.

The ways that digital media can lead to the disappearance of the individual self was a strong message projected throughout the show. Equally strong was the idea of transparency. Immediately upon entering the theatre, the audien was subjected to mediated self-scrutiny, a live-video recording capturing images of the spectators entering the space reflected on a screen opposite the seating area. In a dance that is punctuated by sharply executed pivots and elbow-jabs, the four women moved to the recording of a cell-phone message. At first, the words stood out and it was possible to follow the speaker's train of thought. As time went on and the dance and the message became more harried, the movement and the words blended together, the anxious babbling becoming background noise that set the rhythm for the choreography.

The sound, designed by Justin Samaha, was largely dialogue spoken by the performers or the Slovenian author Renata Selcl, speaking on the "Tyranny of Choice." The Disappearing Woman, with its live and recorded video projections occurring simultaneously with the live choreography and frequent costume changes, presented the audience with the dilemma of choosing where to look at any given moment. While the digitally recorded dances provided a visually compelling backdrop, it would be a mistake to ignore the live performances that do not disappoint in their theatricality, technical precision and playful energy.