One of the greatest pleasures of watching professional dancers from the proximity of five feet is a subtle one. Certainly there’s the frisson of a brush with beauty. But more, there’s the experience of witnessing the intimacy that generates it–the silent communication between performers that affords them such seemingly effortless ease while working in tandem with each other’s bodies–and the effort this entails. From my vantage on the floor of LA Dance Project’s intimate stage, I could see the slicks of sweat on the eight dancers performing 5 Live Calibrations, Madeline Hollander’s latest work, as well as glimpses of the mental exertion required to dance this particular piece, evidenced in exchanged glances and the occasional relieved grin when everything aligned.
5 Live Calibrations features an ambient score by composer Celia Hollander and color-blocked costumes by artist Anna-Sophie Berger, reminiscent of television calibration bars. In the artist’s words, the work is a “live simulation ballet,” based on various techniques for orienting one’s body in space. Each iteration is unique. The work’s five movements are initiated by prompts that serve as friendly competitions among dancers, who attempt to “solve” the puzzles Hollander has established according to her predetermined rules. Depending on who wins, they must collaboratively execute her choreography according to these rules until the score signals the start of a new section. The opening moment of each movement is “like the break shot in billiards,” as Hollander described it before last Friday’s performance.
While a number of choreographers have employed chance-based operations (Merce Cunningham referred to this as Chance Dance), the strategy is an anomaly within the realm of ballet, which even at its edgiest leans more pas de deux than performance art. Like Cunningham, Hollander is classically trained but experimentally inclined, and her choreography similarly displays both ballet’s precision and a conceptualist curiosity. The dancers of 5 have a pre-show joke: “No places please.” It’s a riff on the call alerting performers that it’s time to get into position and a nod to the fact that they have no idea where they might be at any given point down the line.
Friday’s performance marked the third to last time they would take this leap of faith, as the piece, which has traveled from Paris to Abu Dhabi to Los Angeles, winds down. Per the terms of the work’s commission, the company is allowed to perform it for the next two years, after which Hollander will be able to apply her set of operations to new bodies, and thus new variables.