2005: The Changing will always be...
Murray Spalding Movement Arts
Dancespace Project at St. Mark's Church
New York, NY, USA
May 1, 2005
©2005 by George Jackson
Murray Spalding is smart. She knows that taste, talent and technique
are not enough to make your mark on today's dance scene even if you have
persistence. So this New York-based choreographer from Washington, DC
created a distinct niche for herself: making pattern dances, ones with
(perhaps) a meditative dimension. Spalding has worked on "movement
mandalas" for nearly a decade now and in this program presented 8*
of them. The last two, "Mandala IX" and "Mandala X"
Mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning circle, but has come to denote a design
construct, often very elaborate, executed either in inks, colored sand,
silks or still other materials. Viewing a mandala is reputed to be conducive
to meditation or contemplation and, done regularly, it can teach and temper
the spirit. Spalding projects electronic images** of evolving mandalas
onto the backdrop as visual preludes to her dances. Each dance is preceded
by one pattern being born. The process is simple, transparent: from basic
lines and curves one sees ever more complex configurations grow. The simplicity
has its counterpart in Spalding's subsequent choreography as well as in
Evren Celimli's music, giving the overall performance a minimalist character.
One becomes aware that motion or sound repetition is propelled by minute
variations of phrases, and that polarities resolve in harmonious balance.
Yet aspects of the completed mandala's elaborateness also appear. That
happens along the time line, as one remembers sequences of the choreography's
floor plan or body groupings or recalls the succession of movements and
postures taken by the dancers.
The exercise of good taste was apparent. Nine was the number of dancers,
just enough to be deployed in spatial patterns but not so many that the
linear delicacy of the mandalas would be obscured. All of the 9 were young
women who, as a group, seemed more individual in appearance than a traditional
corps de ballet. Yet each dancer shared in a vestal virgin look, showing
pride (upright spines, shoulders down and back) and radiating a purity
of purpose (determined expressions or dignified smiles). They had modesty
but definitely not the humility of nuns. Spalding must be a remarkable
trainer because her cast maintained a constancy of character that showed
no sign of setting, hardening or cracking. Throughout the course of the
8 dances these 9*** remained fresh.
Not all of the dancers were equally active in every mandala. In some,
two or three women stood aside, in position with their arms ready to receive
the gift of motion but waiting until perhaps the end to join the dancing
dancers. These had turned, looped or tread linearly in a smooth flow and
changed arm positions thoughtfully. Never was there excess plastique or
fussy port de bras. Typically, the bare feet were in low demipointe, high
half toe being reserved for emphasis. If it was the acropolis of Athens
that Isadora Duncan brought to life again in her dances, it is the Roman
forum that Spalding made me imagine. Her dancers were dressed in long,
straight gowns that left the arms bare. When a color change was wanted
from the gowns' red, designer Susan Soetaert added saffron aprons that
did not alter the statuesque contours.
Spalding's rotations, coils, curves, straight lines and more rotations
don't require virtuosity but they do demand refined technical coordination.
Mostly the choreographer has a talent for deciding how much repetition
will hold her viewers' attention and when change is needed. The last mandala
on the program, "X", as the finale, had the most rhythmic and
dynamic variety. There was even a vertical vector, jumping. In the preceding
dances, novelty was usually the result of floor patterns, groupings or
postures. Whether or not the audience is induced to meditate really depends
on the individual viewer. If you are not the introspective sort, there's
refreshment for the eyes as Spalding spreads out her panorama of patterns.
My mind did wander a bit to wonder how a different cast would have altered
the vestal image. No, nothing as Bejart as all men, but a few other features
among these white visages? Not much change, I suspect, because proud maidens
know no ethnic bounds.
* The sequence of Spalding's
mandalas was IV, I, VIII, VII, VI, II, IX, X with brief blackouts between
** The animations of evolving mandalas were by Amy Filbin, Adrea Hull,
Rosalind Lord and Spalding; lighting was by Kathy Kaufmann.
*** The 9 dancers were Zoe Bowick, Jennifer Harmer, Marybeth Hurtt, Bridgett
Ane Lawrence, Kely Narcum, Melissa Riker, Leslie Roybal, Sarah Platt and
May 9, 2005
Alan M. Kriegsman
Sali Ann Kriegsman
Alexandra Tomalonis (Editor)
Kathrine Sorley Walker