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Terra Firma: Company Stefanie Batten Bland at Baryshnikov Arts Center

June 4, 2012

Company Stefanie Batten Bland in Terra Firma Photo by Julieta Cervantes

The dancers walk on in-line, submerging themselves in a knee-deep row of black plastic garbage bags, they start to move their feet and bodies creating the sound of the ocean as its tide goes in and out. It has a hypnotic effect upon the audience, soothing.

It was a very relaxing start, the dancers attired in black plastic around the waist and on their heads, men bare-chested the women holding the same black plastic but bunched before them.

The stage is hung with six pieces of pastel colored cloth resembling sails  supported by ropes and pulleys. The dancers move slowly to the sails, entwine themselves in the cloth, first hardly moving then as the sound of the ocean begins to increase so do their movements.

The dancers move to the floor, lying diagonally and to start movements that bring to mind aquatic creatures, seals, fish, and seaweed, this develops into crablike movements as they scuttle back and forth. There are pauses in the work that is a much internal as external and a slow meditative quality that is similar to Butoh.

Company Stefanie Batten Bland in Terra Firma: by Benjamin Heller

Everything is water related, sliding across the floor as it skating. Jesse Keller pulls the sail around her tightly; we see here face outlined as she gulps like a fish out of water, gasping for breath.

The partnering is always male and female, but the women seem bullied, just sort of  overt violence. The men grab the women, only for women to twist away, pushing against the men as if they are unwanted, unneeded, it is a repeated action, the men grabbing, women being embraced, the men pushed away. There is a savagery here, right under the surface, but controlled, nothing gets out of hand, just almost, then pulled back just at the brink.

The lights dim, the dancers have gathered the plastic to the left of the stage; they throw it, toss it, and swing it, creating the sound of waves breaking against an obstacle that is unmovable. They dissolve into a cluster that is completely covered; we see nothing but a pile of garbage, a pile of black plastic bags of refuse and rubbish.

A hand emerges, and then Emilie Camacho’s face, she stares around her as if everything is new to her, as if just she was just birthed and wondering at her new environment. Slowly the dancers emerge, like sea turtles suddenly pouring from the sand.

Ms. Camacho is lifted up as the dancers lie on their back side by side, their arms in the air, resembling an upside down centipede, and she is passed slowly down the line from one to the

Company Stefanie Batten Bland in Terra Firma: by Benjamin Heller

other.

Lifted onto Trenard Mobley’s back, he suspends her making very slight and slow figures of eights with his body. Ms. Camacho with her arms out and feet pointed seems to be soaring, a seagull riding the air. The others are mystified and fearful, watching as she is being swept up and suspended mid-air. Suddenly they panic and everyone starts running, urging her to fly and calling out to each other.

The energy now is frantic, almost comical; there is waltzing and Miguel Anaya strikes a pose like a matador, but just for an instant. Some found humor at different places throughout the work, not overt but a subtle kind, more a smile or soft chuckle.

Ms. Keller is lifted and then falls and everyone catches her. The dancers gather, calling to one another as if they are getting a ship ready to sail. The sails are lifted with the ropes pulled taught, creating diagonal lines in space that have been secured to the floor.

The women change from black to white plastic that is belted, making them more presentable, more acceptable. The outfits now resemble white cocktail dresses with a black belt clinching their waist.

This coincides with a sense of playfulness, that is treaded though Terra Firma. The dancers are like kids on a playground, playing at being sailors. They pull and adjust ropes, working together, calling out names and encouragement, whispering and shouting over and over.

All join together in one corner and like seasoned sailors; they focus out to sea, the lights slowly fading.

I almost did not go to Company Stefanie Batten Bland at Baryshnikov Arts Center. I had seen the promotional video for Terra Firma and was not impressed; it seemed slow, sluggish, lack direction…even boring. Well the company needs new promo videos!

Terra Firma, set to music by John Adams, was spectacular. Fast, exciting, never knowing what to expect. It is poignant statement about environmentalism and the amount of waste and garbage that is becoming epidemic to our waterways and the oceans themselves, destroying our beaches, killing the wildlife. Awesome, simply awesome! This was the New York premiere for Terra Firma.

Company Stefanie Batten Bland is a French and American contemporary dance company founded in 2008. For the past several years, Ms. Batten Bland has traveled between France and the U.S. creating works with distinct, multi-disciplinary futuristic environments, drawing on themes of human connection, transformation, and adaptation.

Terra Firma were developed in residence at BAC with support from The Jerome Robbins Foundation New Essential Works (NEW) Program, The Enoch Foundation, and The Rockefeller Brothers Fund.

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