On Saturday, November 19, 2016, the Newman Center for the Performing Arts turned high-tech with projection mapping, video loops, and more algorithms than a Facebook feed thanks to Bridgman|Packer Dance. You may not think that a collaborative duo of nearly forty years would be on the cutting edge of dance technology, but Bridgman|Packer Dance proves that innovation remains essential to the creative process. Known for integrating live performance and video technology, Bridgman|Packer has won a Guggenheim Fellowship, National Dance Touring Award, numerous grants, served as guest artists at over 150 universities and performed internationally. After the Newman Center performance, it’s not hard to see why this duo’s accolades and success continue to grow.
The first piece, “Under the Skin,” began with seemingly nonsensical text, symbols and numeric sequences projected onto the backdrop. As Bridgman and Packer moved across the stage, their bodies become the screen, their curved limbs and twisted torsos becoming cylindrical screens that warp and bend the letters and numbers, but at the same time, their bodies seem to disappear, become one with the screen behind them.
In the next movement, Packer stands on stage in a white hoop skirt, another body projected onto her bottom half. The effect is simultaneously like x-ray vision and a child’s flip book. Then a second hoop-skirted figure joins Packer on stage, but this person holds the skirt up hiding the dancer’s torso and face. The projection toggles back and forth between Packer and the other figure, Packer’s waist-up projection on the concealed dancer and the concealed dancer’s waist down on Packer. It isn’t until several minutes into this game that the second dancer reveals himself to be Bridgman to the delight of the audience. The previous sequence takes on a subversive quality that Bridgman and Packer continue as they ironically toy with gender roles and norms.
At times, the projection shrinks to the size of a dancer’s belly showing a full-length view of a person, which feels as though we are observing the dancer’s innermost psyche or self. At other times, the projection and the real person meld into a chimera. And still at other times, it’s as if they are conjoined twins, albeit ghostly and ethereal.
The concept of reality versus appearance continues in the next movement as Bridgman and Packer move in and out of the backdrop along with dozens of their video doppelgangers. The effect is one of an epic round off, with no beginning or end. I found myself trying to spot the physical dancers like I would have a ball in a cup. Were it not for their subtle shadows, I’m not sure I could have been confident in my identification. It wasn’t until about halfway through this section that I realized Packer and Bridgman were the only two live dancers in the performance, they had essentially created an entire company from just themselves.
The next piece, “Remembering What Never Happened,” integrates live video from at least three different vantage points including an aerial view along with recorded video from the Mojave Desert. The projection in this work takes on the feel of a house of mirrors, with the duplicated form stretching back into the infinite darkness. You see the live dancer on stage right and then the aerial view of her upstage and then the side view of her stage left like a Cubist painting come to life. Other times, the action gets freeze-framed and repeated, taking on an Andy Warhol-like quality with its endless copy of a copy of a copy. And still at other times, the projection blurs and it’s like watching a Degas painting unfold in slow motion, one video loop at a time.
In the talkback that occurred after the performance, Packer noted how the duo uses technology to defy the laws of physics. Not only do they break the bounds of the physical world but their use of technology also enables them to deeply and creatively explore the realms of psychology and metaphor. While the use of technology has seen a steady uptick in dance and live performance as a whole, Bridgman|Packer lead the trend. I can only hope that their embrace of innovation continues to spread across the dance community.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from DailyServing and Quaint Magazine.