By Anne Carr
New technology and a nostalgia for an older America made for a wonderfully imaginative and unique evening at the Sheen Center last week. Bridgman|Packer is Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer, who have been creating award-winning work together for many years. And after seeing these two premieres, it’s little wonder why.
The evening begins with Remembering What Never Happened, comprised of a series of short vignettes. Overarchingly, perhaps, it is an examination of memory – what do we perceive and what do we remember afterwards? – but as an audience member, it is enthralling because of the technology. Stage right and stage left are covered with thick black fabric, and upstage is a huge projection screen. It starts simply – Packer does a movement, stops, and the mirror image of that movement is projected back onto the screen. It grows even more complicated from there, as more and more images are captured and projected back, until it grows into a drunken whirlwind of color and movement.
It is a truly impressive feat to work with technology such as this. Choreographically, in a traditional proscenium stage, the audience only sees you from the front, and, naturally, that is how you choreograph. Once you layer video capture and projection on top of that, you must be hyper-aware of how your movement looks from all sides, as the camera can (and certainly at some point will) project you from the front, back, side, above, etc. And doing that without making the audience’s eyes want to fall out of their heads is even more impressive still.
The second premiere on the program, Voyeur, was inspired by the works of American artist Edward Hopper. Even if the name doesn’t ring a bell, his paintings probably would – particularly “Nighthawks,” the iconic portrayal of several customers sitting at the counter of an all-night diner. His works are a hearkening back to an older time; where life was slow and barns were a plenty.
The work really begins at intermission, as a crew begins to assemble a house, of sorts, on the stage. Downstage is a wall with a window and a door, creating a room onstage. Projected onto the white walls are ever-shifting images: the inside of a home, a pier along the seashore. The audience is invited to come and walk through; anyone who does becomes part of the work, as their real-time image is projected onto the front of the house for those of us still in our seats to watch. As the audience leaves the stage, we hear the sound of a train, propelling us back in time to a small town in 1940’s America. The wind blows off the sea, we sit on the porch of a home on a warm evening, we walk next to a barn. Bridgman and Packer move slowly, comfortably, almost lazily.
As the work unfolds, something about it is so private, as if we shouldn’t be there at all. We truly are voyeurs – yet, we cannot look away. Occasionally the movement ceases and Bridgman and Packer pause, simply holding space and watching the projections. They, too, are voyeurs in this piece, watching themselves. After one or two of these moments, it was apparent that they were loosely echoing some of Hopper’s most well-known paintings: “Morning Sun,” “Summer Evening,” one of Hopper’s self-portraits. The simplicity is lovely, yet there is a nostalgic sadness about it.
The success of the work cannot simply be attributed to their visual and choreographic genius; no, it is their stage presence that is the icing on the cake. Together, their chemistry is palpable, but so is their calm. They thrive onstage, living in every moment of their creation. I left a little sad, for I wanted to dwell alongside them in that long-gone Americana world forever.