New Ballet Explores Brain Maps Against Backdrop of Art

Last night the Brooklyn-based arts organization Norte Maar premiered a series of new contemporary ballet performances — a couple of which were teased at its Mitchell-Innes & Nash benefit earlier this month — at the Center for Performance Research, with most pieces accompanied by original artworks commissioned especially for the piece, and the evening culminating in a delirious musical performance on double theremin.

The ballet — titled “The Broadmann Areas” and continuing through April 15— takes as its inspiration the German anatomist Korbinian Brodmann‘s map of the brain, with each section of Julia K. Gleich‘s choreography loosely inspired by a brain region or function. The costumes by artist Tamara Gonzales feature a similar right brain-left brain contrast, with screenprint-like abstract patterns juxtaposed with bright, monochrome primaries and neons. A few divergences from that aesthetic — a black, punk tutu; an elegant gray suit; and a vest with a ladder sewn onto it — were made all the more remarkable by Gonzales’s consistently beautiful designs.

Though the 17-part program for the evening might sound daunting, the sensitive meshing together of all the different sections (or “areas”) creates a fluid dynamic that continually gathers momentum throughout the evening, building up to an epic theremin-accompanied finale. Even relative pauses in the action — like the section “accelerate. mitigation. toil. blizzard,” in which the five main dancers sit with their backs to the audience craning their necks more and more extremely and comically to watch a two-channel video by Audra and Margo Wolowiec — manage to keep time with the evening’s overall rhythm.

The dancers — Dylan Crossman, Michelle Buckley, Jace Coronado, Morgan Claire McEwan, Abbey Roesner, and, in one piece, Gleich herself — handle the immensely varied material with aplomb, equally comfortable on points, performing classical ballet movements, throwing themselves into the more aggressively contemporary material, and interacting with original artworks and performance artists. In the segment “Multi-Tasking,” while the artist Lawrence Swan tosses a die for his hilariously Stepfordian assistant (Ida Josephsson) to fetch before reading neuroscience factoids from corresponding cue cards, the dancers repeat a cycle of increasingly manic movements evoking a debilitating sickness or horror. Each new toss of the die seems to diffuse their distress.

This cyclical structure informs the entire performance, with a recurring three-dancer interlude sewing the entire evening together like some connective cortex tissue. The resulting brain (and eye) candy forms a wildly varied but consistently nourishing whole that manages to integrate contemporary ballet, classical and modern (and postmodern) music, visual and performing art wonderfully.

— Benjamin Sutton

(Photo: Dancer with video projection by Paul D’Agostino; Courtesy Norte Maar.)