Founded late last year by artistic director/choreographer Juliana Tilbury, Plexus | dance has quickly established itself among the best small companies in Charlotte. Born in San Diego and trained at the Boston Conservatory, Tilbury danced professionally in New York before heading south and developing her own distinctive brand of modernism. Duke Energy Theatre, with its intimate ambiance and solid electronics, seems like a perfect place for nurturing this group, as the corps, staff, and resources of the company continue to grow. The current Plexus offering, their second, includes a new film, "Transcript," and a new, somewhat enigmatic live piece, "Poise," which also serves as the title of the program.
While it's tempting to consider "Transcript" a solo piece, since Tilbury is the only dancer to appear in it, you cannot watch long without appreciating the input of Tilbury's collaborator, filmmaker Abel Costa. He shoots Tilbury at odd, restlessly moving angles; crops and processes the action boldly, occasionally breaking the screen into multiple segments; and meshes the action so beautifully with the soundtrack performed by Apparat that you believe Tilbury is dancing to it, even when the action moves outdoors. Filmed at the McColl Center for Visual Art, the piece begins in a bare room that has the feel of a loft studio – no mirrors, no barres, and hardwood flooring. Costa's shooting angles are as low and down-to-the-ground as most of Tilbury's choreography here, now and then fetishizing her running shoes (which were also under the tripod-mounted projection screen while the film was showing). Adjourning to the outdoors, Tilbury's choreography was abruptly upright, attuned to the rocky ruins of a Gothic window, writhing along the curved wall that adjoins the gap as she infused her movement with the anguish we find embedded in etchings of the Romantic Era. Costa's angles alternated between near and far, sometimes meeting Tilbury close-up at the corner where the curve of the recessed window terminates in an outer wall. Only when we were fully engaged in this small world did Costa pull back and film some of the action from across a street, with cars and buses occasionally gliding along the bottom of the frame.
There was a similar abrupt shift in the midst of "Poise," with Tilbury joined onstage by Joshua James Hall, Sarah Ingel, and Amanda Rentschler. Choreography by Tilbury had a similar feel to the "Transcript" video, particularly in the floor work, but here we could see how she works with pairs and ensembles. A pas de deux with Hall and Rentschler began with Rentschler firmly resistant to Hall's advances, so the arc of the segment was the woman's gradual yielding to the man, with a setback or two along the way. Far quirkier was the costume change that preceded as Tilbury, after a conspicuous absence returned to the stage in a cocktail dress designed by HeartFeltCelt.com, carrying a hand mic and a microphone stand. As she fiddled with the stand, adjusting the mic, Hall came out to help. Then he began lip-synching to a male vocalist as the remaining two women, in dresses matching Tilbury's, joined her in forming a back-up group. But they didn't remain in the background: one by one, they took their turns at the mic, lip-synching to the same male vocalist! Oftentimes when I go to modern dance, one of the chief perks is discovering the outré tracks that are turning today's choreographers on. Count this piece among those occasions, with music by Oval, Nosaj Thing, Ólafur Arnalds, Julia Kent, Jacaszek, Tom Cochrane, Jon Hopkins, Seesake, and the aforementioned Apparat.
The final ensemble, with its organic, ecological imagery, was the most memorable and moving of the evening. It began with successive sequences where each member of the group was supported by the other three, then cut to a sequence where all four were perfectly synchronized to the same routine. It ended with the group forming a slow-moving mass in which all the members retained a remnant of individuality while moving to the organic rhythm of the whole. With a footlight shining at them from stage left, they moved cautiously into it, past it, and out of sight. Though "Poise" only clocks in with 46 minutes of actual film and dance, Plexus | dance is delivering polished and provocative immersions in the artform. The size of their audience, like their quaint projection screen and projector, are notably smallish compared to their merit. Soundtracks that accompanied both the film and the live performance, in fact, reminded me how state-of-the-art the Duke venue was when it first opened back in the 90s. So there is plenty for an audience to feed on if they're interested in seeing what Tilbury has to say. In an ideal scenario, audience will cross-pollinate with the company and flourish, opening up new outlets for more dancers, musicians, designers, and technicians to participate in the full development of Tilbury's unquestionable talents.
This program will be repeated May 10 at 3 and 8 p.m. in the same venue. For details, see the sidebar.