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Dance performance captures versatility of digital poetry

Digital poetry and dance

In "Introduction: Guillemets," poet Loss Pequeño Glazier reads "Four Guillemets" to choreography by dancer Dana Bojarski. Photo: DONALD J. SCHWARTZ

By DAMIAN PANTON

Published June 19, 2014

While many debate the rise of digital poetry as an art genre radically different from traditional literature, or as an offspring of innovative textual poetic traditions, it cannot be argued that its form overlaps with those genres that have been present for centuries, such as film, music and dance; the “soft” structure and transitioning form of digital poetry lends to it a degree of flexibility few other mediums possess.

The annual Digital Poetry & Dance performance, a collaborative production between UB’s departments of Media Study and Theatre and Dance, returned to the Black Box Theatre in the Center for the Arts on Feb. 1 with a spectrum of performances, featuring the poetry of Canadian media artist David Jhave Johnston and Loss Pequeño Glazier, professor of media study and director of UB’s Electronic Poetry Center, as well as the choreography of dance student Andrea Fitzpatrick and lecturer Kerry Ring, among many others. The performance captured the versatility of digital poetry and its ability to transcend the sum of its parts to become an emotionally engaging and enlightening experience.

The lights dimmed and the performance began with Glazier standing back-to-back with dancer Dana Bojarski. As Glazier began to read his poem, “Four Guillemets,” Bojarski took the floor with an arresting authority and nearly palpable structure of movement. The piece was conceived, according to the production notes, as a choreographic dialog, both dancer and poet “writing” and responding to each other’s concepts as the piece was developed.

The poem’s focus on imagery and wordplay complemented Bojarski’s movements; her imaginative interaction created a new meaning for the poet’s work. The performance bookended beautifully, with the poet and dancer finishing back-to-back before the lights were once again dimmed. While certainly the simplest performance on a media level, it was among the most beautiful and aptly set the tone for the remainder of the event.

Each piece offered a completely unique and engaging experience as it incorporated various forms of media and other dancers as talented as Bojarski. From “Four Guillemets” came “Reading the Wind,” a video poem by Johnston displayed on a screen behind five dancers. While the film of the poem itself was evocatively simple, its cinematography brought forth the poem’s haptic qualities that played well with its meaning and was mirrored accordingly by the dancers, who spun and systematically patterned across the floor convincingly and effortlessly.

As the event continued, the performances began to elicit a variety of emotions and tones. “Talk to Me” had a seemingly ‘50s influenced love story superimposed over guilefully compiled footage of Niagara Falls that was brought to form by its performers.

From there, it went to “Elucidation (prawie czysty)” featuring the video of a poem that appeared to write itself complemented by jazz, the incantatory voice of the late poet and UB faculty member Robert Creeley—Buffalo poet extraordinaire—and an inspiringly robust performance from its dancers.

Following this was “Fixation,” a piece that surprised through its intensely foreboding atmosphere and elegantly perturbed choreography. The mise en scene for the following piece, “Conformed,” deserves a special mention for its vivification of avant-garde filmmaker Ralph Steiner’s 1930 film “Mechanical Principles.” The dance and synchronous costume design worked in tandem to provide new meaning to the machinations of working mechanical apparatus. The next piece, “The Flocking,” featured more dancers than any previous piece and was in many ways a tangible representation of an orchestration made by Jarbas Agnelli based on a photo of birds resting on electric wires taken by Paulo Pinto. The dancers raced across the floor in increasingly complex patterns in a beautiful and convincing mimicry of birds in flight.

The final piece, “Wall : Two : Wall,” incorporated a JavaScript concept anchored to a musical piece and duet. On the screen, moving dots of three different colors swam through space in random directions. As they collided with one another, they adopted the color of the last particle they touched and this balance of colors dictated which lines of poetry would display in the background. Running in juxtaposition to this fascinating concept was a dance evocatively choreographed by Ring and performed by Angelica Mammoliti and Evan Matthew Stewart that surprised with its intimacy and dexterous interpretation of touching connectedness through a sequence of emotional, metaphoric and dramatic permutations.

The entire event was a stunning testimony to the ability of digital poetry to engage diverse forms of media in ways not only meaningful, but alluring and humanizing as well.