Arts Electronica

Bergen Community College, Paramus, New Jersey
April 11, 2008

A Review

On Friday April 11, I went to Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey to view what I had understood to be a “transcontinental event.” The theme of the evening was displacement.

Included in the evening’s program was the music of the late Dr. Ron Mazek (a recently deceased music professor at Bergen), to which the evening was dedicated. His music was played, and played well, at intervals during the program. 

Also included was poet Okey Chenoweth reading two of his most enjoyable autobiographical works (“When She Died,” and “William David Stoneton Canfield the Third”). They were called poems, but were more like lyrical essays. And two young ladies, Mae Frankebergen and Ashley Schisani, dressed in hokey displaced persons outfits, presented a dialogue, adapted by Ken Bonnaffons, which decried FEMA in a sort of Kafkaesque playlet.

It is the transcontinental multimedia dance on which I need to focus.

Lynn Needle and Michele Ayano Elson (one of her advanced students from Art of Motion in Ridgewood, New Jersey), and Lisa Naugle at the University of California, Irvine, participated in what was called a transcontinental dance event. The project was directed by Dr. Linda Marcel on the east coast and Dr. Lisa Naugle on the West Coast. During the dance we, the audience, had some fun parading from one floor to another to the sounds of a New Orleans style band, led by Professor Andy Krikun.

First, the “style” of dance: Both Naugle and Needle are out of the Nikolais School, and it is interesting to note their differing approaches to motion. What Naugle does is in the neighborhood of what, in the 1970s, would be labeled "modern dance."  What Needle does might be called, in terms of the 1930s, "expressive dance." And perhaps this differentiation acknowledges displacement.

Second, the electronic setup: The dance performances were presented via a closed-circuit arrangement between Bergen Community College, and the University of California at Irvine. In the small studio theatre in New Jersey we had two screens (approx. 4’ x 6’) on either side of the stage.  During the dance events these screens would display either the West Coast or East Coast or both dance events.

Having participated in a workshop given by U.C.I. this past winter, I know of the vast electronic resources that Irvine has at hand, so I had high hopes. On one of the screens Irvine projected hard-to-discern thumbnail images of the California dancers in action, which multiplied to fill the screen, eventually producing an effect reminiscent of 1950s wallpaper. Unfortunately, the images were too small to clearly make out.   (To be fair I did not see the first dance work of the evening as I was asked to participate, so perhaps that selection was more aesthetic.)

But what wonderful possibility! I can see a cyclorama-size screen with some carefully planned or improvised motional dialogue between across the span of our continent. Imagine! We really need more of this. And Irvine and Bergen deserve the loudest of kudos for this brave and wonderful venture.

—Ruth Grauert, April 12, 2008