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Immediate Art: Review of Graffito Works at Grounds For Sculpture

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by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

Amidst roving peacocks and curious members of the audience, dancers from the improvisational group, Graffito Works used their bodies to form shapes suggested by the sculptures of Boaz Vaadia on view at the fabulous Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey this past Saturday. The retrospective exhibit of the Israeli-born, New York City based Vaadia’s works features outdoor and indoor installations of his weighty, stacked bluestone-slab renditions of the human figure.

Taking their cues from the artworks, the landscape, and each other, the dancers generated their performance on the spot – rather than executing pre-choreographed movement. The audience joined in too, moving around to get a different view, snapping photographs, or sometimes actually interacting with the performers.

The dancers, Lee Fogel, Loren Groenendaal, Marion Ramirez, and Jenny Sawyer, were clothed in shades of grey akin to the bluestone of Vaadia’s sculptures. Initially outdoors, they spread out from one another, with each dancer operating independently to describe planes corresponding to the flat layers of stone that comprised Vaadia’s figures.  They repeatedly assumed prolonged resting positions, again in relation to Vaadia’s standing or sitting, solid sentinels.

Providing accompaniment, musician Julius Masri watched the unfolding scene closely, careful not to dominate, but adding to the conversation with understated, meditative percussion. From time to time, a peacock added a loud squawk.

As time progressed, the group functioned together more closely, alert for opportunities to connect.  When a man in the crowd lay down on the ground to form a line with one of the dancers, the three remaining dancers built a living sculpture around them of gently shifting, intersecting horizontal and vertical planes.

After a while, the dancers moved to an inside gallery filled with Vaadia’s solid sitting and standing figures, which were arranged in small groupings.  The dancers formed groupings of their own, walking to different spaces in the room, sometimes clustering around one or two audience members. As they rested with comingled body parts, they created three-dimensional assemblages of overlapping curves and lines.

Vaadia’s figures seemed to watch silently, arms folded across their chests. Many audience members stood in the same position, amplifying the number of bodies that were interesting to observe in the room. Only the dancers were consciously using their bodies to create the performance, but all of the figurative elements contributed to the extemporaneous composition.

Eventually the percussion became louder and more energetic. The dancers broke into more vigorous, jumping, turning, sometimes spasmodic movement. A kind of climax was achieved through the interplay of sound and dancers building on the movement of one another. This section of the improvisation seemed only vaguely related to Vaadia’s sculptures – which, obviously, weren’t moving at all.

When things calmed down, the dancers looked for an ending, making decisions, careful not to force a conclusion. The audience had the agreeable sense of being part of that spontaneous energy: thoughtful, but not too serious. Settling into a final tableau, the Graffito Works group created a unique moment, collectively negotiated, a conversation that will never be repeated the same way again.

***DISCLAIMER: I have endeavored to write an honest and unbiased review, however, I would like to make the reader aware that Graffito Works is a platform founded and directed by Steven Weisz, who is also the editor of the Dance Journal.

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