Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre's Locked-In

A dance inspired by our rigid connection to our cellphones was more spontaneous and personal than its title implied

(l-r) Alyson Dolan, Lisa Anne Kobdish, Clay Moore, and Angie Johnson in Locked-In (photo by Steve Rogers Photography)

In the beamed cave that is one side of the Museum of Human Achievement, dancers Alyson Dolan, Angie Johnson, Clay Moore, and Lisa Anne Kobdish, in Popsicle-hued separates, flexed their feet into the air, grooving expansively. They examined each other's pockets and appendages before calling out to no one in particular, "Where's my phone?" Along another wall, the band – composer Andy Nolte, the multitalented Leila Louise Henley, Garry Franklin, and Alán De León Uribe – morphed from rock song to ambient vibe to virtuosic improvisation and back again. "From the end of my arm to the end of the world," Nolte sang, referring to the reach of the 4G device. The dancers found their phones and turned them outward, documenting their own show.

Looking out at both groups from a point opposite the vertex of the L-shaped raised stage, Andrea Ariel, in a tailored purple vest, conducted the proceedings using signals from the conducting language Soundpainting. An amalgamation of ringmaster, conductor, and baseball umpire, the conductor in a Soundpainted performance elicits starts and stops, tone, pacing, volume, and mood from the performers. For Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre's Locked-In, as in its earlier multiyear The Bowie Project, the performers drew from a bank of music, dance phrases, and theatrical components. In heat that edged toward 100 degrees (yes, A/C is a luxury we now have to shrug off if we want to continue following the work of independent artists, even those as established and acclaimed as Ariel), the show never lost its cool, thanks to the excellent performers, the endlessly delicious play between the musicians and dancers, and the thrill of live composition.

The show's advertised theme, our relationship to our mobiles and the disengagement and distraction that result from this relationship, was, in practice, more complex. Bathed in magic-hour lighting by Stephen Pruitt, the band laid out a xylophonic lullaby that conjured up (for this Gen-Xer) the sheer marvel of the internet and the mobile network, despite what constant access to them may do to our heads. In one section, the dancers talked – actually spoke – on their phones, as though having conversations with old friends, in favor of habitual scrolling and swiping. The dancing, while sometimes illustrative of the song lyrics in a cool-kid musical-theatre way ("theatre" is, after all, in the company's name), offered plenty of complexity. The dancers rarely touched each other, perhaps because it was too hot for contact, which made each dancer buzz with an aura of aloneness, even as they moved in sync or laughed together. The title itself, its words clinging together with a hyphen, left space for ponderance. We were not just locked in; we were locked-in, pre-empted, prescribed so, like a fixed interest rate.

A performance that is shaped as it unfolds and executed freely by talented performers is anything but locked in. But the wild gaping heat of the venue, while perhaps not an intended aspect of the setting, did have the effect of wrapping around the show, at best synthesizing with the subject matter and mood and at worst suffocating the experience. Two dancers hung their faces in front of a box fan; Johnson wiped Dolan's sweat-smeared mascara with her fingers. By the performance's end, Kobdish and Moore's costumes, drenched, were a shade darker than they had been at the beginning. Near the end, Johnson, a dancer with a sort of electric naturalness, was pulled by Ariel's gestures and the music into a dervish state, flinging herself through the thick air as the others reclined, dripping. One worried about her. But if the threat warned against is a world that is cold and sterile, it was clear that we certainly, most definitely, thankfully are not there yet.


Museum of Human Achievement
June 22

This review has been updated to correct the spelling of Leila Louise Henley's name.

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Andrea Ariel Dance Theatre, Alyson Dolan, Angie Johnson, Lisa Anne Kobdish, Clay Moore, Andy Nolte, Leila Louise Henley, Garry Franklin, Aláin De León Uribe, Stephen Pruitt, Soundpainting, The Bowie Project

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