Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Only Tribe

Photo/Sheree Hovsepian

How does such a simple concept get so conceited? There hardly seems the room for so much stuffiness given the plain stage, gray one-piece outfits, and white minimalist masks (each with a pixilated Katamari Damacy-like cut-out that gives it a “personality”). But sure enough, there’s a trademark in The Only Tribe’s logo. The “simple” stage actually houses 3LD’s Eyeliner technology, which lets Reid Farrington clutter it with commercial images and dancing holograms. Roland Gebhardt’s masked modernity is well-matched by Peter Kyle’s geometric choreography, and they move nicely to Stephen Barber’s chic electronica, but all this conjures is a high-brow Alexander movement class. Perhaps most damning is that Rebecca Bannor-Addae is credited as a writer for this silent piece: you can read her “story” at, but why bother? You’ll feel even more foolish knowing that Kidao is the name of that omnipresent star and that Lummo is the eldest member of their tribe.

Assuming one manages to surrender to the often redundant (and certainly reductive) actions of these eight dancers, The Only Tribe interprets Bannor-Addae’s mythology. The tall-rectangle masks move about in a hypnotic, synchronous anonymity, every crick of their neck accented by the length of their windmill-blade faces. As they move angularly around the stage, they are supplanted by triangular masks, which writhe like snakes in the garden, their looseness overlapping with the projected images of the old stale Tribe. Then come the weird hybrids of the two—diagonal masks and wide horizontal masks—each with their own appropriate rhythms and movements, all of which (to be fair) the cast nails with mathematical precision and grace.

At this point, images of our own culture begin to pierce the pure anonymity of the Tribe. As the dancers sweep their large masks across the room, images of the Mona Lisa, Disney, Ronald McDonald, and the Statue of Liberty can be seen across their “faces.” In a clever bit of movement, a line of horizontal masks strafe the stage, a stock-ticker flying across their bodies. The evening culminates by taxing the Eyeliner system to layer all the “tribes” over one another, and then to add the detritus of our commercialism: out of that visual din rise a bunch of square masks (televisions, perhaps). However, a few pretty moments and a solid back-beat can’t mask The Only Tribe’s flaw: after all, what is pretension but the meaningless grasp for importance?

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