Members of Benoit Maubreys dance troupe, dressed in electro-acoustic tutus, make noise as they perform in the 55 Water Street courtyard.
Audio Ballerinas strike a noisy pose
By Sara G. Levin
If you think nails on a chalkboard makes your teeth cringe, try amplifying a metal rake screeching across a concrete floor. Even watching five graceful dancers perform such a task atop the 55 Water Street courtyard Monday afternoon was a bit of a painful experience.
In Benoit Maubreys Die Audio Gruppe piece Audio Ballerinas, the inaugural performance of the Sitelines outdoor performance series organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council through Aug. 30, dancers begin Act I, the Line, holding their rakes in rank-and-file procession. Whether or not one can stand watching as the soundtrack of screeching, glass-breaking, and high-pitched throbs emerges, is another story. As the work moves through two more acts, it accelerates and curbs such harsh noise, but never fully overcomes its stark beginning.
Maubrey is known for dressing members of his Berlin-based performance group in what he calls electro-acoustic clothes. In Audio Ballerinas, plexiglass tutus surround each woman, encircling her hips with attached speakers, wires, sensors and radio transmitters. As the women move a forearm, buckle a leg, or tilt a head, different frequencies echo from their bodies.
The technology Maubrey began developing in 1989 makes the resulting soundtrack purely interpretive of the dancers movements, without any independent frills added by composers. (This could be the answer to all the modern dancers who abstained from using music during much of the 1960s and 70s because they did not want their movement to be overshadowed by musicians.)
Maubrey, however, allows his dancers to initially be controlled by the sound technology, instead of controlling it. In the first act, they walk ever so delicately, careful not to move drastically lest their tutus set off a glass-breaking noise decibels louder than the one caused by a light tap of the foot.
The resulting image is a ridiculous onedancers carrying their heads as if they had books resting on top of them, holding rakes as if they were bayonets, fearing the sound of breaking glass each time they take a step. After descending and ascending the escalators, they begin to move slightly more, dramatically raking their bayonet across the pavement every four or five counts.
Then the dancers are stripped of the rakes and start to move around the garden, relying on light-to-frequency sensors, or Peeper technology. The performance gains momentum as they break away from the military line and begin swimming through a sea of oddball noises, hissing air, radio frequencies.
The third act, Yamaha, is much more fun to watch, as the women are finally confident enough to use broader, faster choreography to manipulate the noise. They clasp their hands as if holding castanets and lunge or sway to conduct UFO-like bleeps into a chorus.
Still, I was left wanting more. The technology seems too good to be wasted on so much stillness, slow movement and parse choreography. What would happen, I wondered, if the dancers began jumping and spinning or even doing handstands in their electro-acoustic tutus? One can only imagine the sound.