JCWK Dance Lab Traverses the Digital Frontier

by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, dancers performed on stages in front of live audiences. Now, seemingly eons later, they beam into our homes through computer screens – like Princess Leia materializing before our eyes via hologram.

The five dancers in JCWK Dance Lab’s HOMEbody are garbed in white, evocative of sci-fi royalty themselves, and they burst into digital life like a group of priestesses performing a ceremonial rite (although they were actually recorded by filmmaker Jake Buczewski in live performances over the course of the past two years). Presented as part of this year’s Digital Fringe Festival, the dance film is the centerpiece of the Dance Lab’s interactive website, “The Other Side of the Window Screen.”

HOMEbody is a dance of shifting moods; it unfolds slowly, accompanied by original music written by Paul Fejko. The dancers frequently mirror each other’s acrobatic movements, generating momentum through breath rhythms. In one section, they whisper aloud as if incanting a benevolent spell. Jessica Warchal-King created the choreography for HOMEbody, and she performs in the work along with Laura Baehr, Erin Coffey, Sarena Kabakoff and Kyleigh Kover.

As the piece begins, a solo dancer takes the stage while piano keys tinkle in the background. A second and then a third dancer join her, and their liquid movements build up a sense of private mystery. Their gestures (hands walking up torsos; arms stretched out in offering) are precise yet curiously enigmatic.

Drums join in with the piano in the next section, and two more dancers arrive to complete the ensemble. They walk in patterns, trading groupings like they’re trying to find their proper places. They support one another, lift each other up, raise their arms together in a circle. They fling their legs into arabesques and arch backwards with supple elasticity. The effect of their repetitive, perfectly timed movement is quietly transporting.

Towards the end, the dance becomes more dirge-like: organ chords crash ominously and four of the dancers sit down to watch a stately, slowly moving member of their group. Then the dance picks back up – a quirky spring awakening set to zippy piano music. All five dancers come together, twirling with happiness in the final moments.

HOMEbody is available for streaming through October 4th. Much of the Fringe Festival is digital this year, but the creative spirit is unstoppable. Performers and audiences can still get together, and it’s unquestionably better to adapt to our far-out, hi-tech times than to miss out entirely.

About Jane Fries

Originally from the west coast, Jane Fries pursued undergraduate studies in dance at San Diego State University, where she got her start writing about dance for the student newspaper. After an escapade as a correspondent for Dance Magazine in the south of France, she went on to earn her MA in dance from Mills College in Oakland, California. Jane's subsequent explorations in non-theatrical dance forms led her to take up the practice of yoga. She has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1996, and has had the great pleasure to study Iyengar yoga with Joan White. Jane's writing reflects her background in dance history and interest in documentation and preservation.

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