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Review: Sidra Bell premieres Monster Outside at the CAC

An existential fantasy world of dance, chamber music and projections

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In the world premiere of Monster Outside at the Contemporary Arts Center, Sidra Bell Dance New York in collaboration with Sweden's New Tide Orquesta explored the emotional effects of human alienation and the struggle for connection in a technologically driven culture. Through an interplay of movement and sound, the performance provided a thought-provoking, existential experience about feeling joy and pain in a highly mechanized world.

  The production combined dance, chamber music, projection mapping and vocal scoring to create a fantasy universe. In the first part, two semi-nude performers, dazed and seemingly automated, wandered aimlessly in a dreamlike setting, accompanied by an eerie, futuristic soundscape. With a translucent box surrounding her head, one dancer appeared to type on an invisible keyboard while pulling herself across the stage with high-heeled shoes, rolling on a moveable platform. Another performer, whose head was draped with a crown of photo strips, alternated prone yoga positions of plank and downward dog. Geometric graphs were projected on metallic panels suspended from the ceiling.

  Sidra Bell's international reputation as a genre-busting choreographer stems from her artistic technique and her philosophical perspective. In this work, she deconstructs social structures that separate people and create outliers to the norms. She also comments on ways in which technology promotes dissonance and makes daily life less human. Bell warns of the dangers of in-groups and out-groups.

  The title, Monster Outside, is a play on different meanings of the same word in English and Swedish. In Swedish, monster means patterns; so, the choreography repeats complex forms, demonstrating how patterns in social structures can create outsiders or monsters. Five members of Sweden's eclectic, modern chamber orchestra joined the dancers onstage, intermingling violin, cello, bass, piano and voice with dance in an interpretive manner. The ensemble's innovative composer, Per Storby Jutbring, who plays the bandoneon, uses melodic aspects of baroque themes, unpredictable clashes and progressive patterns of minimalism to evoke angst, loneliness, rage and desire. His compositions are energizing.

  Six dancers perform isolated, angular movements, making them appear separate from one another, even as one staggers off stage. Another performer struggles to conform by getting in step with a kickline. Buffeted by the stressors of life, they are trapped in monotonous, meaningless activity.

  A voiceover interjects, "Man has forgotten there is deeper meaning to life."

  Costumed in tan or white leotards, the dancers are devoid of individuality. Some pair off but are so tightly intertwined they become inseparable contortionists. Two men exhibit pain and struggle, fighting for control over a woman and grabbing at her legs and arms. Their physically difficult, emotionally troubling movements contribute to feelings of loss and the search for intimacy.

  Monster Outside was a fascinating performance that translated the tensions of contemporary life into captivating dance forms with avant-garde musical accompaniment.

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