|Benno Voorham. Image from his website: bennovoorham.com|
When a distinguished dance teacher like Benno Voorham spends a weekend in town, it is time to rise to the occasion and present his work, whether you identify as a presenter or not. Walking into the Dance Exchange studio in Takoma Park, MD, I noticed wall to wall black curtains and crisscrossing diagonals of light directed upstage. The setting and audience of thirty people transported me into performance mode. Two simple wooden chairs were set facing away from each other splitting center on a diagonal. My program offered little information about the piece or Voorham. It read Benno Voorham by Benno Voorham. Luckily, I already knew some basic information: that Voorham is a contact improvisation teacher from Sweden and that he was going to perform a twenty-minute improvisational performance. Voorham entered the space, wearing only red plaid pants and a belt, and sat down in one of the chairs. The opening image of Voorham sitting lasted for the entirety of the first piece of classical music as if we were invited to join in on a sitting meditation. When Voorham left the chair, I was immediately drawn to his bare back and feet. For the second piece of music, we watched his back and hips giggle as if he was rolling a marble up and down his torso. The classical music and the unexpected back-dance created a bit of humor. I was not prepared for the isolated movement and therefore wanted to laugh.
The piece built from there as his focus lifted and his body traveled through space. His dancing began to mimic the rhythm of the music with sharp head turns and direct walks. While Voorham remained on stage left, I was aware of the chairs and curious as to why they were there. The one most distant from him seemed to represent a goal that he would eventually reach. As I wondered about the props, Voorham physically altered the space, pushing one of the back curtains halfway across, revealing a white wall, windows and a ballet barre. His dancing shifted to full body extensions, reaching his limbs to the edges of his kinesphere. The dance developed into a study on shadows growing from simple to complex. Still limiting himself to half the stage, each pivot, roll and jump was accentuated by his shadow. At this point, the dance was enjoyable to watch, but not original in execution.
Choreographers frequently make use of shadows in performance. Voorham took the shadow idea one step further by removing a filter and revealing the shadows of the chairs. At this point, the chairs morphed into shadow architecture. The lines of the chairs created an environment that the, now two shadows, of Voorham glided through. His chorus of “dancers” now accompanied him causing some movements to pop. These moments relied on exact positioning in front of the light source, and I wondered if Voorham set these moments to achieve a specific image or not. One moment that took my breath away was the duet of shadows spinning on the ground. With the introduction of the chair shadows, Voorham ventured more into stage right. I was not sure whether to focus my attention on the live body or the wall of shadows, but I did not mind. At one point he acknowledged the untouched chair, as if to foreshadow that more chair interaction would take place later on. As predicted, he was making his way toward the second chair, dancing close to it but not touching it. He dragged his lower body on the floor pulling himself forward with his hands, he crawled, he reached his head toward the chair and he waved his hand around the chair. The piece ended, as I expected, with Voorham sitting in the chair. Throughout the work, the sound score alternated between silence and eight of Beethoven’s 33 Variations On A Waltz In C Major. This frequent change in sound provided a chance for me to catch my breath and reflect on the movement that I witnessed.
Contact improvisation (CI) seemed to inform Voorham’s dancing. As he transferred his weight from one foot to another, I felt his body grounding into the floor like he might control his weight in a contact duet. This soloist almost had an invisible partner at times. He seemed to construct “ledges” with his body by folding to a flat-back position, providing surfaces that could perhaps support a dance partner. Since he gradually developed themes or repeated movement, I had time to notice the ledges and visualize another body in the space. I walked away with an appreciation for the low-tech interactive solo improvisational performance.