The Territory Between

Fluid Measure Performance Company and Simone Forti

at Link’s Hall, March 10-12

By Daniel Halkin

When we reflect on our sense of identity, do we focus on what’s memorable and definite–on what we identify as formative experiences? Can we gain insight into ourselves by observing what we’re ambivalent about? Or is our identity more fluid: does our response to the ever-changing present moment reveal what’s fundamental in our natures? Such questions came to mind while viewing the final weekend of four in Fluid Measure Performance Company’s “The Territory Between” series on movement and the spoken word, featuring three works by the company and three improvisational solos by guest artist Simone Forti.

Fluid Measure–Kathleen Maltese, Donna Mandel, and Patricia Pelletier–uses a larger palette than Forti, adding costumes, props, video, and lighting to words and movement to create vignettes that emphasize inner experience and exploration. Pelletier’s skillful writing, filled with poetic imagery and metaphor, is wonderfully coupled with dancing that’s both sensually affecting and clearly intentioned: their rich pieces have a profound emotional impact because they merge thought, physicality, and imagination. Moments of humor and irony lighten even the darker works.

Most of us have conversations with ourselves. Fish Eye captures one woman’s ambivalence–her internal dialogue–as she responds to her mate. Maltese extols the virtues of sensuality (“The word ‘want’ begins with the shape of a kiss”) while Pelletier wonders about her lover’s motivations when he nicknames her “fish eye”: it seems part of her is always watching. Maltese’s whimsical costume is an amalgam of spandex, garters, and chiffon, and her movement and words create an impression of frankness, joy, and playfully innocent sexuality. As the thoughtful, modestly dressed, intellectually inclined watcher, Pelletier maintains a sense of distance and skepticism. Often remaining upstage, she seems slightly removed from the dancing even when she participates, while Maltese immerses herself in every sensation available in the movement. The exchange between the two sides of this woman does not lead to a resolution but to a sense of the simultaneous existence of separate entities within one being, sometimes interfering with each other, sometimes peacefully taking turns.

Rupture shows how a repeated pattern of events can influence one’s identity. A woman (Maltese) looks back at childhood moments that encapsulate her separation from her mother. Using a simple prop–long gloves with enlarged and extended fingers–Mandel embodies a caring mother in manner, movement, and voice who nevertheless is unavailable for physical comforting. Meanwhile Maltese acts out her character’s memories with the sincere delivery of a child while her physical movements recall both a child’s spontaneous responses and a mature adult’s introspection. The piece is divided into three sections, the first and last showing the child left to her own resources while the middle section reveals a moment of private affection with her mother. The girl’s sense of abandonment and disorientation is effectively communicated by the endings of the first and last scenes: Maltese spins rapidly in place as the lights dim. One has the sense that these two scenes are part of a long string of memories ending similarly.

Can an individual’s nature be understood in the absence of other people and society at large? The Onion takes a humorous, pointed look at one woman’s experience of modern childbearing. The first section conjures up an obsession with the technology of fertility, but most of the piece concerns a new mother (Mandel) coming out of anesthesia after a cesarean section and the nurse (Pelletier) who attempts to modify her preconceptions of motherhood. The work builds a palpable sense of entrapment in a world of good intentions, fears for the future, and societal expectations–and offers a way of transcending these traps through the primal, visceral connection between a mother and her newborn.

The second half of the evening featured Forti’s improvisations, which suggest that moment-to-moment interactions between one’s intellect, the environment, and one’s internal sensations are the source of identity. In Dance Forti works only with movement, accompanied at times by a sparse saxophone soundscape by Jon Gibson. Like a surfer picking waves to ride, she seems to scan her inner sensations for possible candidates from which to develop movement themes. One after another, gestures, tactile explorations, movement qualities, and patterns of breathing arise and subside, sometimes separated by stillness and other times piling up quickly. At times Forti passes through possibilities faster than a bored television viewer with a remote control. At other times she demonstrates a Zen-like concentration, nurturing every moment, feeling every nuance, leaving no avenue unexplored.

In Animation Forti picks three words (“daily,” “half,” and “compliment” one night) and an object (a tomato plant support) and then releases her mind and body to the task of making connections between them. The nature of this improvisation–an uncensored flow–creates the potential for intuitive brilliance as well as cliches. What’s revealed most strongly, however, is Forti’s optimism, her willingness to fail, and her dedication to an art form in which no performance can be predicted: this 65-year-old artist must trust the investment she’s made in the process and in herself.

The Jackdaw Songs, based on an observation by naturalist Konrad Lorenz that in the evening a jackdaw will randomly string together the calls it’s made during the day, is a vocal romp. Forti’s speech and vocalizations are surprisingly visceral–we see the movements of facial muscles and feel the flow of air, the vibration of the throat, the muscular work to change volume. We can almost sense sounds coming from the outside merging with sounds coming from inside the skull.

Though different, Fluid Measure’s and Forti’s works complement one another well. The evening heightened our awareness of various ways to view life and oneself, reminding us that identity is not a monolithic thing but an assemblage of multiple perceptions.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Frederking.