Wind and Tree
July 27, 2014: Jack, 505 Waverly Avenue, Brooklyn, NY
Director and Choreographer – Abe Abraham
with Megumi Eda, Caitlin Abraham, Mina Lawton, Kevin Petite, Jake Warren, Abe Abraham and other dancers
Photographer – Peter Masterson
Film editors – Abe Abraham and Francois Bernadi
Music – JT Bullit’s seismographic recordings of the Earth’s vibrations
The three screens turned out to each be the size of a household flat-screen TV so I was a little taken aback having somehow expected to find three huge screens but no matter. Jack, a performance space, consisting of a large room with three of its four walls covered in tinfoil, made an unorthodox, but rather appropriate venue for this very avant-garde film which runs 45 minutes.
The seismographic recordings sounded a little like a very distant game of bowling with crashing, banging pins. Actually, we are hearing the earth breath as it rumbles and makes odd, growly sounds. A recording of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories is overlaid so there are interludes of somewhat more conventionally musical sounds. The entire program was inspired by Wind and Tree, a poem by Pulitzer Prize winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon.
In the film, we see flashes of parts of bodies with arms bent over heads as though shielding a vulnerable part from a blow; unconnected hands and glimpses of a single, staring eye. In many shots, just when I figured out what body part I was watching, the picture shifted, which was confusing but not unpleasantly so. In one sequence, repeated several times, the dancers punch the air overhead and around to the side, “fighting” empty space. The whole is disorienting and other-worldly as the viewer is guided by the camera. We see an elbow and as we realize that’s what we’re looking at we are quickly thrown into a new perspective by a shot of a forearm or head. At one point, two bodies appear, a man and a woman, both naked from the waist up. They move mostly apart from each other, sometimes repeating each others’ movements, sometimes not. Every frame reveals an alien look made more so by the highly unusual accompanying sounds. Sometimes there are grunts; other times we hear panting as the body bits struggle and give way while the earth itself is gasping or wheezing in counterpoint.
I never knew what to expect which made the piece compelling. Images appeared and vanished; at one point, the dancers abruptly moved more quickly for a while before returning to their earlier, slower rhythms. I’m unclear as to how the piece took its title because I didn’t find the movements relevant to either wind or trees but felt as though I was watching a battle between almost-inhuman figures in a in a vaguely voyeuristic manner. Although the figures have human form, because we see them in pieces and not as whole beings, there is a sense that we are watching angry giants who want to pummel anything within reach. A force greater than any one body or sound is punishing someone or something although we are left to decide the reality for ourselves. Tangled arms, legs and sometimes the tops of heads are lit so that skin sometimes looks like stone or hillocks or even wood. Once in a while, it even looks like flesh.
Abraham originally created the work for a single screen and expanded it to three to “draw out a deeper story and find innovative ways to combine images and sounds from one screen to the next.” The result often yields a blast of movement and music that benefits from the juxtaposition.
The film left me out of breath and slightly dazed. Was this the future? The old past? Past and future intertwined? I don’t think concrete reality matters. It’s Abraham’s vision, originality and creativity that is on display.
The rest of the evening was filled with what I will charitably describe as a “talent show” featuring a high-tech singer/keyboard player with an electric guitarist; a solo dancer, a group doing a riff on musical charades à la karaoke and an athletic man and woman from Cedar Lakes Ballet who revelled in gymnastic twists and nicely executed lifts and spins. Oh, and a stand-up comic who would do well to pursue another line of work while he’s young enough.