Sinopoli Company Transcends Distance Through Dance

Albany Times Union  June 20, 2020, by Tresca Weinstein

Over three decades of dance-making, choreographer Ellen Sinopoli has collaborated with sculptors, painters, poets, architects and physicists. So it’s no surprise that she’s found fresh ways to interact with the medium of the moment: the computer screen. 
“This is a very singular time for all of us,” Sinopoli said Friday evening, introducing her company’s first virtual performance, “As Close As We Can.” “It has forced us to adjust and change how we live, work and how we create.”

That may be particularly true of dance, which has always had an uneasy relationship with the screen. Dance on film has a way of becoming a work of its own that no longer reflects the original experience, even when it objectively enhances it by bringing us closer or revealing angles that wouldn’t normally be visible to an audience. “As Close As We Can” avoided that conundrum, however, by stripping everything down to essentials. The show featured five solos drawn from Sinopoli’s repertory, filmed last week in a gymnasium that allowed for social distancing. With a single static camera angle and no lighting, props or backdrop—besides a basketball hoop hanging above—there was only movement and music.

Documentary-style, each dancer spoke briefly to the camera about the ideas and imagery that inform their interpretations. Before launching into a bouncy excerpt from “Solo Flight,” Maggie Ciambrone, wearing bright yellow, shared her vision of her character as a flirtatious, happy sun. In a section from the same work, André Robles moved slowly and deliberately, stretching upward and outward—channeling, as he explained, a predator moving through the wild.

Erin Dooley recited the Rainier Maria Rilke poem that inspired her solo from “Becoming,” then flowed through languid, sensual choreography full of curving shapes. In a solo from “Tiamat” that she described as “a celebration of female strength and the female body,” Sara Senecal elongated through space and across the floor; as she picked up speed, her movement sometimes appeared slightly blurred or glitchy—a technological filter that added to the sense of urgency and intensity.

In Laura Teeter’s solo from “Sandungera,” set to longing music by Astor Piazzolla, she stands alone in the bare space, exposed in the flat wash of light, turning and reaching, looking for something she can’t find. Infused with loss, nostalgia and confusion, it was the most poignant and timely of the selections.

The performance also included Q&A; a look at the troupe’s arts-in-education work at local elementary schools, which has continued throughout the spring in video format; and a group improvisation created via Zoom during one of the company’s remote rehearsals. Responding to each other’s movements, the dancers appeared intimately connected, transcending the boundaries of their digital boxes.