Sunday afternoon saw a near-capacity crowd in attendance for a performance by Philadelphia-based harpist Mary Lattimore and the avant-garde dance of POMS. The POMS dance was created for Durham's Moogfest, and was premiered at the ArtsCenter in May. This was the second Triangle performance of the piece.
Lattimore opened the evening with solo harp music, using a loop machine perched on her lap. She was constrained to very simple harmonic progressions with no modulations – usually I-IV-I-IV repeated over and over, or IV-V-IV-V. Her bass lines were typically only two notes, and with the loops she had little variation in tempo or dynamics. Even with a few layers built up, the effect was one of stasis, and while those interested in New Age or minimalist music will be accustomed to the results, even an expert can only carry this off for a limited time. Five minutes would suffice. However, Lattimore played for forty.
The POMS performance was considerably more elaborate. This dance was commissioned for Moogfest 2016 as a collaboration between Mac McCaughan (best known from the band Superchunk), Sarah Honer, and Amanda Barr. McCaughan composed the music for live performance on analog Moog synthesizers, loop machine, and drum machine with the assistance of Brian Paulson. The choreography was by Honer with much emphasis on the costumes and props made by Barr. Three dancers worked as a trio – Ginger Wagg, Sarah Wilson, and Stella Wingfield Cook. Late in the show there was John Bowman, entirely invisible inside a sort of volcano from which would issue puffy white balls. Skylar Gudasz accompanied the volcano.
The trio danced in three different costumes. First was a grey puffy suit (perhaps inspired by the Michelin Man) that allowed for falling and rolling about on the stage with much flailing of limbs. Next was flesh-colored tights and black spandex, coupled with large lips that eventually were worn on their heads. There was only a small opening for the dancers to see out of between the lips and we were all fortunate that no one fell off the stage. Finally, the dancers were wrapped in translucent plastic with a diffraction coating.
The motions of the dancers were abstract in the extreme. Therefore, any particular meaning to anything happening on stage was determined by the spectator and not with a great deal of help from the performers or musicians. This is the norm in this kind of performance and those in attendance were well aware of what kind of dance they had come to see.
The music was basically tonal with only a very few purely electronic effects, and dominated by loops much like the preceding harp music. (The electronic equipment was a great deal older than the digital synthesizers and computers that one finds at most contemporary concerts, giving the music a certain retro feel.) The dancers would start and stop certain gestures and sections with changes in the music, but the link between music and dance was rather approximate, and by no means metrical or in any way representational.
One thing I do hope the artists can work on is the manner of ending. When the POMS dance ended, it was not quite clear to the audience until a rather awkward pause leading to their bow.
All in all, the dance was worth attending. I am sure that with a few more performances things will gel and become more polished.