Danielle Kipnis’ Matters of Facts at the Center for Performance Research
Matters of Facts
Center for Performance Research: October 29, 2016
Choreographer/Artistic Director: Danielle Kipnis
Dancers – Danielle Atkinson, Rebecca Gual, Danielle Kipnis, Xavier Townsend
Composer – Noah Pardo
Interactive Design – Xinyao Wang
Bass Trombone – Jeremy Morrow
POW Camp Historian – Sam Love
Matters of Facts, a multimedia performance, incorporates dance, music both live and electronic, projections, video and snippets of news as broadcast during and after WWII.
Inspired by a Radiolab broadcast that focused on Camp Aliceville in Alabama, the post-performance “talk back” included John Gillam, Executive Director of the Aliceville Museum who put what I found an oddly positive spin on this and similar POW camps, stressing how well the prisoners were treated and the “economic boom” to areas in the U.S. where such camps were built. (Gillam, phoned in over Bluetooth, made being in the camps sound practically like a vacation.)
Four dancers — Danielle Kipnis, Dani Atkinson, Rebecca Guai and Xavier Townsend — dance and mime being soldiers under fire, working together smoothly to produce acrobatic rolls and some inventive lifts. During the first half of the performance, the audience was instructed to stand among the dancers which served no discernible purpose as everyone stood around the edge of the space. Behind the dancers, wall projections enhanced the movement especially in the POW section when the design was of a wire grid; at other times, the projections fought with the action which was distracting.
The second half of the performance dealt with experiences of prisoners in POW camps. One section featured elegant Xavier Townsend dancing with marionette apparatus, a lovely piece of choreography but one that didn’t make much sense until later when Kipnis, who is also the company’s artistic director, alluded to puppet shows having been something prisoners did in the camps. She also linked marionettes to the U.S. public’s manipulation by government and the media, a worthwhile topic for exploration but one that the performance didn’t directly address. Although the dancers are technically skilled, overall the work lacked emotional content, even when portraying a boy/girl almost-love relationship in the camp.
Noah Pardo has created interesting music that moves the work along while Jeremy Morrow played the trombone, at times referring to My Country ‘Tis of Thee.
Kipnis’ inquisitive intelligence informs her work and seems to inspire the dancers in her company who gave us insight into their creative process during the talkback segment.
Since I’m older than most of the audience as well as the performers, clips of Walter Winchell and other figures of the WWII era probably resonated more with me than them. For everyone in attendance, learning about our country’s history is a worthwhile experience even if the evening’s somewhat disjointed drama fell a little flat.