February 3, 2020 by Winfield Maben for the Dance Journal
Originally published for the Dance Journal here.
On Friday, January 31st Zornitsa Stoyanova showcased AndroMeda as a part of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s second quarterly Friday Remix series. The work took place in the museum’s Great Stair Hall and was performed alongside several other pieces that took place throughout the museum at various points in the evening. The work featured four performers (Megan Bridge, Elba Hevia y Vaca, and Rhonda Moore) alongside Stoyanova herself and illustrates a postmodern dystopian landscape through what becomes an immersive multimedia experience.
Upon entering the Great Stair Hall the audience discovers a large piece of chrome material stretched across the front of the space. This helps to build the intrigue of the work before it’s even begun; leaving the gathering crowd to wonder at its use and purpose within the work to come.
The work begins as a performer enters through the back of the space, that being the staircase itself which the audience was seated on save for one aisle down the middle. Slowly the dancer descends to the main hall, moving her arms slow and circuitously until she comes in contact with a second dancer who had entered below while the audience’s attention was drawn to the stairs. As the two make contact a third dancer enters; she places them head to head, a gesture which begins to repeat itself moving in and out as a woven triad of bodies.
The performers in this work exist in reaction to one another; often cascading and escalating off of each other’s movements, initiating gestural flourishes that pulled their bodies into a state of flux. After this period of flux sustains itself for a brief while, sharper twitch-based gestures introduce themselves, texturing the work by providing juxtaposition to the smooth sustained movements the audience had been thus far exposed to. These twitches escalate into chest undulations, becoming increasingly violent and frantic. It’s at this point that AndroMeda begins to show its true colors as the length of chrome material behind the performers begins to inflate to a gargantuan size. As the balloon grows the frantic gestures of the dancers turn towards the audience as if they want to call out and communicate, eventually breaking into clapping before falling back into the now fully inflated balloon, consumed completely.
Here the work takes on a multimedia bend as a screen behind the material begins to display projected movement, warped and distorted. A voice begins to speak over the music as brief glimpses of the performers, silhouettes within the material, can be glimpsed. There’s a tension introduced here between technology and humanity; a cold mechanical future represented by the voice issuing dispassionate statements the organic unity of humankind portrayed by the dancers themselves. The material exists as a junction between these two ideas; both futuristic in its chrome composition and all-encompassing presence; but also uniquely organic in its flexibility, the way it seems to breathe with the air inside of it, and with the humanity of the dancers caught within it. At one point the voice states, “This object stares back”. While this is applicable to the reflective nature of the balloon, it also applies to the work as a whole which exists as a warped mirror placed upon the cross-section between an organic past and the inorganic future we find ourselves at as a species ever more subsumed with technology. It’s in this messaging that AndroMeda is most poignant as it portrays the relevant concerns of a society at a crossroads.
The work lends itself handily to the Great Stair Hall as the openness of the space allows for a more immersive performance experience. Audience members view the work from all angles sitting on the stairs, standing along the side of the space, or even peering down from the floors above. This adds to the work by introducing both the sense of community that comes in experiencing something as a collective whole, but also in that it emphasizes the colder more voyeuristic qualities present as well.
The work draws to its climax and conclusion as the voice becomes frantic and erratic and the balloon begins to deflate. As the dancers emerge from the deflated material they struggle and flail as if drowning in a shimmering ocean, the material wildly swinging in reaction to their movement. Eventually, the performers emerge fully and begin to make their exit up the staircase, carrying the material overhead. As they move through the parted crowd they begin to pull in members of the audience, who join them in carrying the now deflated balloon out of the space. Like the rest of the piece, this moment has a dual meaning as it serves to showcase solidarity within humanity as the group ascends the staircase, growing in size as it acquires new members, but the shining chrome material still hangs overhead, asserting its dominance over both the performers and those they’ve drawn in.
AndroMeda is visually stunning and thematically intriguing, introducing a blend of human and mechanical elements that work in tandem to paint a picture of society as warped and controlled by technology.
Winfield Maben is a Philadelphia based writer and dancer and an aspiring member of the greater Philadelphia area dance community. He graduated from Muhlenberg College in 2018 with a BA in Dance & English and has previously conducted several features for the Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange. He has worked with several established choreographers including Tiffany Mills, Sharon Vazanna, and Trinette Singleton and has performed in a variety of unique locations including Triskelion Arts (Brooklyn, NY), ArtisTree (Pomfret, VT), and the Brooklyn Bridge. Winfield aims to explore the art of dance through the multidisciplinary approach that was emphasized in his education, not only examining the physicality of a given work but also the intentionality and cultural impact of the work as a whole.