The evening before 2020’s Valentine’s Day, Robert Sher-Macherndl of Lemon Sponge Cake Contemporary Ballet performed a love letter to ballet, his mother, and melancholy called Seriously Solo. Equally arresting, magical, and mysterious, the solo work transformed the gymnasium at the Boulder Jewish Community Center into a surreal, alternate reality for an hour.
As the second in a three-part series of solo works, Sher-Macherndl built Seriously Solo off some of the choreography of Gone, a site-specific work from 2018. He chose to open Seriously Solo with the same piece of choreography as Gone yet with a key difference. For this iteration, he performed behind the audience, backlit by a spotlight, so that his skirted body cast a monolithic shadow on the gym wall in front of the audience. I thought about Plato’s allegory of the cave as the audience watched Sher-Macherndl’s massive shadow dance. As he inched his way up the aisle, the shadow shrunk, and as it shrunk, the gym’s architecture fractured the image.
The next work provided a glimpse into a dancer’s practice, the rigor and repetition of the artform, the relentless again, again, again. He started from the basic ballet positions and repeated the choreography over and over. Yet even in his repetitive phrases, Sher-Macherndl infused each movement with its own energy and vivacity with a stretch of his neck or a flick of an arm. At times, it was as if Sher-Macherndl’s body–or perhaps some outside force–had possessed him, as when his arm undulated from shoulder to hand. And yet I sensed he was never not in control. Sher-Macherndl brilliantly fused familiarity with intuitive logic. Just as I thought I’d figured out the pattern, Sher-Macherndl would switch gears entirely with a surprise movement. As a result, the performance maintained dynamism and intrigue that was both delightful and invigorating. Each twist and turn, whether literal or metaphoric, begat another, and yet one never knew what would happen next.
After this, Sher-Macherndl performed to a staticky, scrambled, glitchy mix of German music. His movement expertly echoed the sounds in its shifts from frenetic to collapsed, robotic to fluid. Throughout the performance side-stage spotlights cast shadows of Sher-Macherndl, which then fell across basketball hoops and mingled with their shadows. Again, the fractured quality of the space broke the shadows and created abstract cubist and hybrid shapes that danced across the cinder block walls.
As in Gone, Sher-Macherndl lip-synced Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams,” which he followed with a piece in which he smeared white paint across his bare belly, chest and head. The paint then bled through his shirt and streaked his pants. It dotted his face, neck and arms, a residue of each and every motion. As this section continued, each quiet movement felt more and more loaded with meaning. Gradually the blue light, so dominant until now, waned and a yellow, dusky glow took its place. Sher-Macherndl ended the evening dancing to Edith Piaf’s “No Regrets” in both French and English. Full of twisted, tortured agony, the piece functioned as an homage to Sher-Macherndl’s mother, who loved the singer. Even though his mother died young of cancer, she was instrumental in Sher-Macherndl’s development as a dancer, taking him to his first ballet and encouraging his lessons. At the end of the performance, Sher-Macherndl picked up the skirt and walked back down the aisle into the light, his shadow growing in size as he exited.
Experiencing the performance was not dissimilar to living inside a lyric essay, abstract painting, or blues song. I kept thinking about Maggie Nelson’s Bluets or Clyfford Still’s massive indigo painting PH-247, works that enrapture the reader/viewer not only with their emotional weight but also their artistry. One of my friends from graduate school said she liked things that “were a satisfying punch in the gut.” I, too, like artworks that flatten me. Seriously Solo certainly delivered.
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.