On the Fence

commotion dance theater, tectonic dances @ rochester fringe festival, muccc, 25 september 2021.

Still from Peter Bo Rappmund,Tectonics, US 2012, 60 min., digital video.

At the northern end of Mexico, which is also the southern end of the United States, the real and the surreal meet. So we see in Peter Bo Rappmund’s 2012 digital video Tectonics, a striking travelogue of life along through that region. Grass grows in the dust and trees bend in the wind. Corrugated metal creaks and towns are sliced in half by nation states. Nature mingles with the unnatural. Water laps the shore like the hem of a garment. Human settlements form colorful blocks of apartments and buildings. Motors hum. Radios blare. Silence sits above tire tracks on a dirt road, remnants of a chase. The sky is big and blue. Tiny bits of green and brown desert scrub cling to crevices and cracks. There are hardly any people, or if they appear they are overshadowed by the landscape.

Peter Bo Rappmund,Tectonics, US 2012, 60 min., digital video.

In Commotion Dance Theater’s Tectonic Dances, presented at the Multi-use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) as part of the Rochester Fringe Festival, the choreographer Ruben T. Ornelas along with dancers Nanako Horikawa Mandrino, Natalia Lisina, Alaina Olivieri, and Roy Wood bring bodies to this ghostly video. They do so, however, not merely to inhabit it. To be sure, at times the dancers become people, perhaps a refugee or immigrant hiding from the authorities, an ICE agent on the prowl or chase. In a few moments, they take on the characteristics of animals: a horse, a bird. There is a lurking violence always threatening the dancers the more they creep toward the human or the sentient.

Commotion Dance Theater rehearsing Ruben T. Ornelas’s Tectonic Dances.

Just as often, however, the dancers leave human figuration entirely behind to blend into the non-human world of the video. Limbs articulate as if almost to break the body itself up into component parts. The dancers echo, quote, imitate, and evoke the formal beauty of Rappmund’s images. Arms roll like the waves washing in against a pier in the Gulf of Mexico. Torsos lean and bend like trees in the wind-whipped desert. Bodies puff like clouds or move like rivers. They clutch to the sides of hills, flow over the ridges and peaks of mountains, root down into the earth, or tumble over like grains of sand.

And then there are the fences in Rappmund’s video. Fences, fences, and more fences. They are beautiful yet terrifying. They play with the light, creating texture and depth. They sparkle in the hot dryness that high-definition digital video is so good at capturing. They rust, creating hues that seem to blend into the desert. They moan and groan in the wind. They tilt and lean like modernist sculptures. They almost, but not quite, seem to fit. But the brutality of these structures is also ever-present. They interrupt and block, disturb and shut off. The dancers explore these qualities in their movements, often splitting apart from ensemble work into solos, uncomfortably touching, then ripping away from each other.

Hovering between the embodied and the abstract, the representational and the purely formal, Commotion Dance Theater’s performers never quite come to rest in either mode. They dance at the border.

1 thought on “On the Fence

  1. Dear Michael J. Kramer,
    Thank you for coming to our Fringe Festival performance at MuCCC and for your insightful comments on “Tectonic Dances.” I think you hit the nail on the head.
    Much appreciation.
    Ruben T. Ornelas / Commotion Dance Theater
    PS. I encourage you to consider viewing and writing about the work of Rosalie Jones, Daystar. Rosalie is the founder of the first American Indian Contemporary Dance Company in the US. She is 80 years old and lives in Rochester. She will be presenting dances at MuCCC 11/28-12/5, 2021.

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