Monday, 3 March 2014

Meet The Artist: Alex & Xan (the Median Movement) #JACK

Brooklyn based choreographers and couple Alex Springer and Xan Burley recently came to Goucher College to do a modern dance residency with Goucher dance students. They led modern dance master classes in some intermediate and advanced level dance classes and attended seminar to conduct a question and answer session with students. At the end of the week, Friday 28th February 2014, the couple presented excerpts from their latest work in progress at an informal Meet The Artist Event in one of Goucher's dance studios.

The Median Movement, Alex & Xan's artistic collaboration is, as Alex described, based on the meeting place or mid-point where people share commonalities. With an emphasis on creating work for both stage and film, the Median Movement appears to draw inspiration from improvisation techniques and has clear roots in release, graham and limón modern dance techniques. Having graduated from University of Michigan with liberal arts degrees and continued to work together as performers with Doug Varone and Dancers and within their own company, both artists have learnt to think conceptually about their choreographic projects.

Excerpts of JACK, their current work-in-progress, were performed by twelve goucher dance students, whom auditioned the previous weekend. The idea of a movement alphabet was explored and manipulated by the dancers. Each letter of the alphabet was given a particular movement and then each dancer altered these letters- using varied dynamics, spatial orientation and size, to represent the alphabet in capitals and italics. Using this variation, Alex & Xan layered the choreography by instructing the dancers to use different rhythms, patterns, directions, movements, dynamic qualities and relationships to each other. Duets and trios arose randomly as one dancer's movement accidently matched or complemented another dancer's.

The couple presented another exercept that discussed the idea of accumulation and the power of group mentality, which also used the idea of layering. Set to Tread On The Trail by Terry Riley, a single dancer stamps her feet and repeats the word 'Jack', then another dancer joins her and copies, then another and another, until a tight semi circle around the original dancer forms. The gradual build up of bodies, vocal repetitions of the word 'Jack', combined with the increased speed of the stamping establishes an overwhelming and crushing sense of choas. The group suddenly break out of the repetition and all lean forward, glaring into the eyes of a single dancer that faces them, alone. She runs to escape and suddenly the group has fixated on another dancer, who falls to the ground as they quickly switch direction and lean towards her in unison. The notion of power in numbers, and of a group's tipping point to destruction, as Xan explained, is evident in this excerpt. The incorporation of vernacular movement; running, walking, falling, leaning, allows the uninformed spectator to successfully find a narrative within the movement that reflects the chaos, turmoil and destruction of the excerpt.

As Artists in Residence the couple were hugely inspiring. Their organic and natural approach to choreography and incorporation of improvisation, variation in rhythm and group relationships were intriguing. In addition, as teachers both Alex and Xan were exciting and dynamic to work with. I really tried not to get cheesey or deep in this post, but it wouldn't be a successful post without a bit of cheese: as one of my friends in the residency said, it is these experiences that remind us that we are on the right track.