Sinking In to The Floating City

kristina isabelle dance company, the floating city @ links hall, 24 october 2013.

So. floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the half-spent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. — Ishmael, Moby Dick

Hi-def film footage, a body sprawled out on a barge floating aimlessly across the water, the Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan, candles, broken glass, flowing water in closeup; a dancer in a skeletal, spiky fish-like costume crawling over a miniature skyline; another dancer hanging off of a larger art deco skyscraper set; flashlight illuminated lantern boxes. The imagery and themes came fast and furious at the start of Kristina Isabelle’s The Floating City. It felt like too much, too quickly, an overwhelming clutter of themes and concepts that threatened to sink The Floating City under the weight of its own intriguing ideas. The pacing was frenetic, leaving an audience member unsure how to catch it all, reel it in. Only when the film and set moved to the background did things got more interesting. Indeed, the piece might have been stronger if slowed down and even stripped everything away but the dancing. That alone was enough to sustain attention.

Diana Deaver (left) and Kristina Isabelle (right) in The Floating City. Photo: Ryan Bourque.

This was a piece about four flaneuse journeying through a Chicago-like contemporary setting. The dancers were forceful, their gestures athletic and virtuosic: expressive juts and chops, extensions of sinew, thrusts of muscle, snaps of energy up the spine and out the head. This was dexterity and concentrated power, controlled exertion on display. The movements hardly seemed floating or dreamy or surreal, but rather assertive, almost showy. These wanderers in the city were hungry for experience, certain that they belonged, longing to discover and experience urban life. These were four women out on the town. They were not tender, but rather bordering on incendiary, throwing themselves around the city rather than floating in or on it. There was no time for lingering in this piece, but rather a need expressed throughout to leave one’s mark, to shoot across the grid, to burst through walls, as the dancers quite literally did in one filmed sequence. These dancers wanted to shake their city up, leap across its skyline, dig deep into its layers, speed around its corners, and zoom up and down its streets till dawn.

The individual was the main unit of expression here rather than the group. With this focus on the solitary dancer rather than the ensemble, The Floating City became something graceful but not ethereal. It accessed the vernacular movements of young people on a Saturday night, energy and desires and curiosities and the freedom of youth coiled up tight, unleashed with a roaring ease. These were isolated figures on the prowl, conquistadoras of the nightlife, aware of their own powers, taking pleasure in their assertions of virtuosity, seeking danger, impervious to failure or harm. Yet shadowing their bursts of intense movement and self-assured energy was something else too: loneliness. Perhaps it was because the solo work so dominated the ensemble interactions, but there was something intensely cold, icy, even cruel, lurking in the dance. There was little in this floating world to ground the individual. And even the individual dancing somehow seemed to erupt on the bodies rather than from within them. This kind of floating might not, in fact, be as liberating and pleasurable as it first appeared. Being a flaneuse was, perhaps, not all it was cracked up to be. There was a nagging anxiety below the confident expressions of virtuosity: one began to wonder if, at some level, these characters were trying to avoid a state of concern about their unmoored places in the urban environment that they moved through with such seeming assurance.

The more the dancers pushed at the imagined world of The Floating City, the less they found there to sustain their efforts, and hence the more forcefully, the more desperately, they danced. This made for something to think about: perhaps not an easy, open, airy feeling of floating in any simple sense, but rather a drive to soar emanating from a not-quite-conscious worry about gravity’s pull. Here was an impressive flexing of the body out into space to prevent the reflexive act of turning back inward, toward interior self-scrutiny. In the noir-ish vibe of The Floating City, there was, fittingly, some kind of cover up. Stepping out with a grace and pizzazz expressed in almost-violent motions of the body also revealed the hint of fear that if one stopped moving with such force and grew still, everything might fall to ruin.

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