Cindy Brandle Dance Company’s (CBDC’s) The Process of Navigation (or how to move through life relatively intact) April 27-29, 2018 at The Dairy Arts Center’s Carson Theatre takes viewers on a metaphorical expedition through the vicissitudes of life in a small, black-box theatre. Physically demanding on its performers, the show melds abstraction, poeticism, humor, and grace in 11 shorter pieces separated by a Suri-like voice that announces “recalculating” or “continue navigation” between each work. In a world increasingly dominated by technology and artificial intelligence, The Process of Navigation reminds us that it’s more about the journey and the method of transit – our bodies – rather than the destination. The performance’s circular structure seems to posit, after all, that we end up exactly where we started.
Extremely intimate, perhaps notoriously or intimidatingly so, black box theatres boast the benefits of simplification, bare necessity, pure essence. There is nowhere to hide – either for dancers or the audience – because there is no real separation. CBDC effectively and creatively uses the architecture and structure of the Carson Theatre. “Above,” for example, leverages the mezzanine for comic effect with mimed puppetry and slapstick, Three Stooges-like movements. With “Obstacles,” two dancers lean against the back wall with slow, acrobatic, serpentine movements, intertwining each other on occasion. The space itself becomes a character of sorts that the dancers push against, slide down, flop over, and crawl on, enhancing the tension between the dancers and the environment. Physical space, therefore, becomes a key aspect of navigation itself.
CBDC repeats rounds throughout the performance which create a cascading effect much like the fall of dominoes. This tactic further enhances the cyclical nature of the performance as the movement patterns curl back on themselves before springing forward like a corkscrew or spiral. The repetition and return to the beginning reminds one of meditation: while dancers and thoughts may stray and wander, they always come back together to start anew.
The work demands much of its performers in strength, flexibility, and endurance. Melding elements of ballet and modern dance as well as yoga, the piece highlights both the beauty and strenuousness of physicality. At times animalistic and other times lyrical, The Process of Navigation forces its dancers to dig deep into their artistic repertoires for just the right emotion. For example, when the dancers place their right hands on their foreheads and then each turn their own heads using their left hands, one can see both self-discipline (focus on this not that) and the utmost sense of self compassion (a gentle nudge).
Video and photographic works punctuate the live dance. Shot outside in various locations, the film and still imagery enhances the concept of navigation with settings such as flagstone-and-rock labyrinth, a crumbling building, and cement tunnel. The cinematography by CBDC dancer Madison Plummer and director Cindy Brandle highlight a tenderness and intimacy with the dancers and the eloquence of an extended palm or the beauty of a neck’s taut tendons.
In our current era of destabilization, The Process of Navigation provides a means of positioning ourselves amid the chaos. “You are here,” it seems to say, “in this body, this space, this time. And you can always start again. At the beginning.”
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from Regis University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently sits on the board of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and was previously involved with CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in DailyServing, Quaint Magazine, and Scintilla. She is currently at work on a collection of essays about family dynamics in addition to editing a newspaper/zine about happiness for Denver Theatre District’s Happy City project with U.K. artist Stuart Semple.