From Philadelphia to Buffalo and Back: Tree.Lock Productions Presents SplitScreen

by Winfield Maben

On September 7th, Tree.Lock Productions brought Splitscreen to the Pig Iron Theatre Company. The work, which is a collaboration between Sterling Melcher and Meg Kirchhof, seeks to experiment and examine interpersonal relationships and the tethers that bind people together across great distances. The work is specifically interested in these bonds as they pertain to digital communication. The primary conceit of the piece involves the use of Skype, utilized to project both a series of videos as well as Meg herself (who was calling in from Buffalo, NY) onto the front of the space while Sterling performed with the dual projections.

The projections themselves make up the bulk of the performance and, aside from the Skype call featuring Meg, showed a series of videos in which the pair dance together in a variety of locations around Fergus Falls Minnesota. As the projection continues the audience begins to understand that although the locations are different, the pair are performing the same movement phrase; utilizing the different geography of each location in order to make minor adjustments to the choreography. Three separate projections are utilized and with each new video the pair switch up the manner in which they interact with it and with each other. For the first portion, they become one with the audience, sitting on the floor and watching the footage alongside the rest of the room. The second section sees Sterling and Meg dancing in front of the projection, with Sterling taking moments to address the audience and convey some of his inner thoughts as he performed. The third and final section, and emotional catharsis, of the evening, saw Sterling angling the projectors so that he, his own projected video, Meg’s Skype call, and the projected video on her end were all layered upon each other. The result was a beautiful kaleidoscope of movement which never got too chaotic due to the similar motifs shared throughout all four sources of input.

In between the video segments were potions which served to flesh out the relationship between the two performers as well as to give the audience a glimpse into the inner workings of the piece. Sterling would approach the camera and unmute Meg, and the two would have a brief talk about what had happened in each segment. This included discussing thoughts they’d had, movement quirks they’d noticed in themselves or each other, and friendly banter which impressed the deep bond between the two on the audience. This, in turn, fed back into the choreography as the more the audience understood the connection between the two the more meaning they could derive from the movement both on and off-screen; leading to that emotional catharsis in the show’s concluding moments.

Perhaps the most compelling and choreographically exciting moment was when Sterling and Meg performed the duet from the videos together in tandem via Skype call. The movement itself relies on weight sharing and counterbalancing so obvious hurdles emerge when performing them solo Yet, as the two worked their way through the movement, a sort of magical quality seemed to tie it all together. While obviously they weren’t able to physically support one another, there remained a connection between them which allowed their movements to retain a sense of togetherness or connection, giving the illusion of a nonphysical partnership.

Personal, contemplative, and beautiful, SplitScreen ponders what connects people over vast distances in the digital age and questions whether that digital connection can be made physical. Through creative use of projection and a dedication to bringing intimate and personal feelings into a performance space, Sterling and Meg weave a narrative through their movements and interactions. One which opens a window into their personal lives and interactions with one another, sharing enough for the audience to feel the impact of both their separation and their togetherness.

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