Audiences entering the black box space of BAM Fisher in Brooklyn for More up a Tree found a transparent room containing a man sprawled on his back, and a woman nervously pacing. The co-presentation from the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) 2015 Next Wave Festival and Performa 15 considered the surveillance-like nature of performance, and the often invisible collaborations and tensions between performers and audience.
A notice at the entrance explained that the audience was free to roam, but for the most part people found a viewing place near the Mies van der Rohe-esque installation by Brooklyn-based artist Eve Sussman and stayed put. Soon the man — Australian drummer Jim White — and the woman — Portuguese dancer Claudia de Serpa Soares — launched into a duet where White’s free flowing rhythms accented and contrasted to de Serpa Soares’ kinetic, decisive movement.
The ricocheting of White’s drumming, which sometimes was just patterns on the cymbals and others had the cacophony of a full drum line, had a chillness to it that provided an engaging friction with de Serpa Soares’ more adrenaline-fueled choreography, with hair whipping and leg kicking. The arc of their organic energy was a sort of ongoing experiment in testing the limits of the rigid space. And in the installation designed by Sussman, what appeared at first like glass walls were revealed as two-way mirrors. One moment the performers could just see themselves, and the next the audience was suddenly seeing themselves. The idea of who was watching and responding to whom was constantly in flux, with overhead lights controlling the perspective, and sometimes illuminating different corners of the stage inhabited by the audience.
White and de Serpa Soares would be commanding performers on any stage, yet with the addition of Sussman’s installation, More up a Tree brought the audience in as a fourth participant, able to get tantalizingly close to the music and movement, although still voyeurs beyond the walls.
More up a Tree was November 19 to 21 at BAM Fisher (321 Ashland Place, Fort Greene, Brooklyn).