A body of work. We all have one, in those periods, focuses, facets that surface at different times during our lives, but for few of us are these surfacings as crystallized, as deeply etched for the public to make of them what they will, as they are for lifelong pop stars like David Bowie. When Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre, in collaboration with the Bowie tribute band the Super Creeps and Strike Anywhere Performance Ensemble, dove into Bowie's work and life to-date, the glittering takeaway was how marvelously one person's body of work can inspire a cultural mood that, in iterations beyond the artist's conceit or control, becomes a force in the experiences of others.
Because though actor Nolan Kennedy's tired, strung-out Bowie was no more a complete Bowie than the Super Creeps' frontman, Adam Sultan, each was a representation of a facet of the Bowie epic. (Some fans may have found it a shortcoming, though, that 21st century Bowie was largely missing.) In using soundpainting (the multigenre improvisation technique in which conductors use baseball signal-like gestures to elicit actions by the group) to mix, splice, and warp Bowie's music, narrative bits culled from Bowie's interviews, and dance, AADT Artistic Director Andrea Ariel and her collaborators wove together the texts of individual experiences of Bowie's work, and of Bowie's own work with itself and himself.
As these experiences intermingled, it became clear how Bowie's devotion to invented personae – Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke – is akin to the Super Creeps' devotion to Bowie (the tribute-band genre itself cultivating multiple layers of personae). Though the show's narrative reminded us that Bowie's characters may have been a strategy to appease the mental illness that plagued his family, the show found richness, rather than schizophrenia, in dual experiences and different strata of meaning. At the end of the ballad "Space Oddity," as Major Tom floated off into space, Kennedy riffed on isolation and loneliness while the dancer Alyson Dolan, moving forward in space with a big bent-leg rond de jambe, her body reeling backward, embodied the other facet of the song, the tragic-romantic one in which all of space is the iceberg and Tom's abandoned capsule is the ship.
True, Bowie seems to have gone to the edge of the universe and back, more than once and all at once. Ariel has been making dances in Austin a long time – I've barely scratched the surface of her body of work – and there's value in this collaborative perspective on the Bowie epic: It's reassurance that all we are expected to do in life is just keep on making the songs we need to make.
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