If film becomes the medium of preference for choreographers in the 21st century, it will be because of luminous works like Heidi Latsky’s “Soliloquy.” The first in a series of dance films that Montclair State University plans to produce, “Soliloquy” received its premiere at the Alexander Kasser Theater on Thursday, on an evening that combined both live and recorded performances by Heidi Latsky Dance.
With Latsky credited as both director and choreographer, and Zac Halberd as director of photography, the film’s debut suggests a fresh beginning for Montclair State as an incubator of avant-garde dance. While MSU has dabbled in film before, most excitingly with the downloadable “Frame Dances” Susan Marshall created in 2009, an initiative called “Dance for Film on Location” now seems likely to catapult the university and its director of arts and cultural programming, Jedediah Wheeler, to the forefront of those who are imagining what the future of dance might look like. Choreographers Nora Chipaumire and Doug Elkins will create the next films in the series.
Filled with close-ups of a diverse group of performers, “Soliloquy” offers the kind of intimacy and heroic physicality that are traditional selling points for dance. At the outset, organic shapes evolve in soft focus as if limbs were forming in the womb. We examine the texture of hair and skin, and then we see the fantastic architecture of the body in motion: heads slowly toggling side to side and the torque of a dancer’s muscular back. The camera grazes these surfaces with a loving touch, dwelling on their beauty while Chris Brierly’s music adds emotional highlights.
But wait, there’s a catch. Suddenly a woman rushes toward the camera, apparently legless. An older man’s head nods restlessly, in a way that doesn’t look quite right. Are his moves choreographed, or are they a sign of pathology? Context is everything. When the camera pulls back, introducing the dancers one by one in full-body shots, we see that one woman, Jen Bricker, is indeed legless. Another woman is pregnant; and the older man, Robert Simpson, leans on a cane. They are not typical dancers, yet in a magic world where no one competes for prizes or has to perform ordinary tasks like climbing stairs or unscrewing a jar-lid, these people appear equal to everyone else. They are individuals dancing along life’s path, growing and reborn from one moment to the next; and they make glamorous film stars.
Perhaps the key image in “Soliloquy” is a close-up of an eye, looking extravagantly detailed with its mottled iris and wet lashes. A nod to Buñuel’s similarly disorienting film “Un Chien Andalou,” this eye reminds us that art has the power to liberate all of us not only by permitting us to dream, but simply by changing our perspective.
“Soliloquy,” however, is only the first offering in an evening called “Triptych;” and it is a hard act to follow. The choreographer takes a central role in “Solo Countersolo,” a dance from 2013, her hips swirling and knees twisting as if she wants to screw herself into the ground. Moving around and past her, five members of her company perform staggered, faceted moves that grow in scale and begin to travel widely without ever amounting to much.
The third piece, titled “Somewhere,” offers another, rewarding glimpse of the movement by non-normative performers that “Soliloquy” teaches us to crave. Like that movement, Xi.me.na Borges’ Minimalist score is intermittent, racing one moment and oddly still the next. Simpson lopes across the stage and sits in a chair, extending his arms and seeming to talk to us with his large hands curiously folding. This gestural language makes a striking counterpart to the ASL that deaf performer Alexandria Wailes will demonstrate later. Most remarkable of all, however, is Jerron Herman. A dancer who holds out one arm stiffly, hand clenched in a fist, he whips fiercely across the stage and his body ripples with energy. Next to Herman, a more conventionally gifted dancer might appear bland; and Latsky spotlights Herman at the end in a solo that bursts with unsuspected promise.
Heidi Latsky Dance will repeat its program tonight through Sunday at the Alexander Kasser Theater at Montclair State University in Montclair. Visit peakperfs.org.