Take me to church

Dalila Baied (left) and Abby Nace dancing in Melissa Briggs-Branford’s “Quartet for Today,” photo Norman Johnson

Perpendicular, New Mexico Dance Project, Oct. 10, in the parking lot of the St. John’s United Methodist Church, nmdanceproject.com

Instead of ushers at New Mexico Dance Project’s outdoor performance on Saturday night, parking lot attendants checked masked carloads in and used flashlights to guide each vehicle to a spot around a central playing space. It was instant theater-in-the-round on the asphalt outside St. John’s United Methodist Church. Once parked, audience members were allowed to emerge, but they stayed by their cars, sitting on tailgates, setting-up folding chairs, and huddling under blankets. Some watched Perpendicular from the safety and warmth of their front seats.

Scarlett Wynne, NMDP artistic director, as well as collaborators Christiana Barnett-Murphy and Melissa Briggs-Bransford each presented new dance works created for this unusual space and for these remarkable times. Wynne, who performed with Spencer Toll, explored interpersonal dynamics in “Replay” by using an unrolled carpet, a table, and a chair. Accompanied by recorded electronic music and Bach’s Concerto in D Minor, the way Toll ceremonially moved furniture, lifted Wynne, and even removed her shoes, implied extreme intimacy. How many relationships have unraveled since March, as couples find themselves literally on top of each other in small apartments 24 hours day, 7 days a week, locked in quarantine with the worst and the best and all the other unavoidable aspects of a partner?

Barnett-Murphy’s piece, “The Story,” was basically a “Brown Lives Matter” solo for Gabriel Carrion-Gonzales except for the presence of the White, blonde Barnett-Murphy, who was seated motionless on a chair across from him for most of the dance, like a witness. While a voiceover featured an angry, passionate Carrion-Gonzales telling a story of racial self-

discovery and pride while he physically demonstrated this evolution through movement, what rescued the piece from polemic overkill was the dancing. Even in a parking lot, Carrion-Gonzales covered a lot of ground, and always demonstrated grace, power, and emotion.

Briggs-Bransford’s piece, “Quartet for Today,” with Dalila Baied, Micayla Duran, Mabel Lujan, and Abby Nace — all in masks — contrasted a dreamy, post-modern Philip Glass score (the String Quartet No. 3) with two overlapping athletic duets in sneakers and stylish pantsuits: one couple in white, another in red. Running backward at full speed without any chance of going off-stage must have been exhilarating for the performers, who played to different facings in the circular space, entered and exited between cars, showed good teamwork in unisons, and offered clear, committed dancing throughout. As the pair in red suddenly lay intertwined on the cold pavement after running and dancing full-out, they moved aside their masks, leaving them to hang off one ear. Then they breathed — hard, grateful, deep breaths. Later, back in movement, they linked arms and began to dance as a pair. These days, just the act of two people dancing and breathing together seems radical and moving.

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