“It’s not over”
I think that’s what I heard the young dancer Logan Farmer whisper as she walked toward the center of the French Institute Alliance Française’s Skyroom on Thursday, setting in motion the premiere of Kimberly Bartosik’s “The Encounter.”
Soon, Farmer raised her gaze and arms. It was the posture of someone who longs to escape, to be taken away — maybe up, up and away. It was the posture of the assumption of Mary, of the Rapture, of alien abduction. It turned out to be a core gesture of the hourlong dance.
Reviewing Bartosik’s 2020 work “Through the Mirror of Their Eyes” in The New York Times, Gia Kourlas remarked on a resemblance to the Netflix sci-fi series “Stranger Things.” That resemblance continues in “The Encounter,” presented as part of the Crossing the Line Festival.
As before, the cast combines young performers — Bartosik’s child, River Bartosik-Murray, now 15, joined by newcomers Farmer and Ellington Tanner — with older professional dancers, this time including Bartosik. As before, the sound design by Sivan Jacobovitz (collaborating here with Bartosik and Frank Napolski) is a filmic underscore of wind, low rumbles and higher frequency signals, suggesting an encounter with the supernatural or extraterrestrial.
And as before, the world is in turmoil, evidenced by the way the dancers keep running in circles. They might resist the flow for a moment, holding on to someone else, but they have to keep running, keep moving.
A few things have changed. “Through the Mirror” premiered in March 2020, just before the pandemic shut performances down. A program note connects “The Encounter” to Bartosik’s return to the rehearsal studio after the lockdown and much else. We’ve all been through a lot.
Hence, perhaps, the yearning upward. Midway through the work, most of the cast has gathered onstage when Farmer returns, extends her arms to the sides and rises onto her toes, as if to say, “I’m ready.” The others lift her and promenade her, some offering their crouched backs to walk upon so that she need not touch the ground. It’s a little like “The Unanswered Question” section of George Balanchine’s “Ivesiana,” except less creepy and more anodyne: a child’s dream, aided by others.
In “The Encounter,” the desire to escape seems to alternate with the desire to find connection down here on Earth. The performers are continually watching one another, staring into one another’s eyes. The professional dancers — the Bartosik veterans Joanna Kotze and Burr Johnson, plus Mac Twining, Ryan Pliss, Kalub Michael Thompson and Claude Johnson — execute difficult balances, cantilevered off each other, sharing weight. Twining and Pliss sometimes seem like lovers.
In the many comings and goings, Bartosik is seldom present. But late in the work, she and Burr Johnson lie on the floor, she on top of him, facing upward, and he lifts her in that Rapture pose. And then he has to set her down, of course. And another dancer — Thompson — gets to use Johnson’s big body to momentarily lift off.
Thompson is a performer whom Bartosik discovered in an earlier, community-outreach version of “The Encounter” in Buffalo. (She’s also done “The Encounter: Italia” and “The Encounter: Asheville.”) The integration of non-professionals and young performers with the New York pros affects the work in ways that Bartosik seems not able to control. For one, the amateurs make the pros look affected, and their dancier bits look superfluous.
I’d say the climax of “The Encounter” comes when Bartosik-Murray tilts his young face up to the light (designed by his father, Roderick Murray), yearning for a way out, and Thompson comes and embraces him, without arms, head to shoulder. But then Kotze and Johnson (Burr again) return to do more balancing, and Johnson gets the final “take me” pose. It’s not over when Bartosik-Murray and Thompson embrace, but it should be.
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