At the start, an Asian woman who seems small against the enormous backdrop of a silken black cloth is standing, facing the audience. Then she leans back into the material a bit, as if resting against it. She is dressed in a glossy, dark blue minidress, with a slit at the front right thigh that, because of how she stands, creates a small “V” pointing upward. That V widens as she takes a very sensitive microphone in her hand and snakes it under her dress, up to her beating heart. She bends at the waist, she contracts and expands, and each time she does, her breath sounds land like thunder. All the while, her beating heart speeds up with each exertion and slows down when she relaxes. In a few minutes, everyone in the theater has her pulse in our consciousness. And then she sinks further into the inky cloth, one leg driving her backwards, and the music starts, a kind of stripped-down, percussion-driven soundscape that might be the basis for a movie track As the music rises and she sinks further, I watch her closely, mesmerized. The light shifts; there is a pucker in the drapes where she has cocooned herself. The curtain falls to the floor, and she is gone.
This is Plexus, conceived and directed by Aurélien Bory and performed by Kaori Ito at BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) as part of its Next Wave Festival. Joan Cambon and Arno Veyrat contribute, respectively, music and lighting design, both of which drive the piece beyond the realm of dance and into hallucination. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happens in this piece after that first section. Ito shifts in her role as much as the lighting shifts — as does her prison/jungle gym/wonder web. In one moment, we see her as the creature caught in a web she did not devise, pushing against it, rocking it until she reveals the whole stage to be a forest of string. Or she falls back within it, letting go, allowing the cords to bear her, then bounces back upright, as if gravity were working in reverse. At times she climbs the cables, only to slide down and begin the climb again; other times she does not seem human. The lighting shrinks her to puppet size, and it takes me until the end of the piece to realize that there aren’t several dancers on stage. Then the lighting goes berserk and turns the scene into a set of mistranslated images, as if the satellite uplink had failed. The images become strangely angled parallelograms, reduced to black and gold, and Ito’s movement is only sort of visible. Then she reappears and the cage is floating; no, it’s a solid mass. Ito is a wraith; no, she’s a spirit animal; no, she’s a machine, interacting with another machine. She’s all of these and keeps moving. Perhaps the most surreal and captivating moment comes when Ito is wrapped in that diaphanous black and seems to float among the cords, wafting as if blown by errant breezes — until, at the end, she is once again swallowed up and vanishes.
It doesn’t feel right to call Plexus either a dance or a spectacle. It is a window into another dimension, one where we can shrink to pinpoints of visual data and grow large like a spider controlling her web. The place Plexus takes me to is visually astonishing and aurally compelling. It is somehow hopeful, too, showing me that constraints, as elaborate and all-encompassing as they may be, bring out what complete freedom never could.
Plexus ran at the BAM Harvey Theater (651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn) from November 9 through November 13.