“We learn foreign languages through repeating pairs of opposites,” observes dancer-choreographer Rachel Damon, after a rehearsal for Factor Ricochet, which opens a two-week run on Thursday 27. “Like on Sesame Street. ¡Abierto!” Her palms, cupped together in front of her chest as if holding a baby bird, open like she’s releasing it. “Cerrado.” Her hands close. Similarly, we’re encouraged to claim one end of a spectrum over the other. Male or female. Gay or straight. Democrat or Republican.
In making a dance that proposes that we slide endlessly back and forth in the middle ground, depending largely on who’s around us, how we feel about them and how they make us feel about ourselves, Damon began experimenting with mimicry of these handy but fictitious extremes. “But what turned out to be far more interesting was, rather than embodying the Marlboro Man, thinking about the part of myself that is a cowboy, the part of myself that is male, that is taciturn, that is stoic, and amplifying that.”
By “amplifying,” she doesn’t mean “cranking up to 11.” The most satisfying area of research, she says, has been locating herself at the center of a range—of gender, for example—and noticing subtle changes as she inches toward either end. With the help of movement coach Kristina Fluty’s keen eye, Damon and three other dancers homed in on experiencing these slight transitions. (The piece’s choreography, as well as parameters for its improvised scenes, was collectively developed.) For one exercise, the dancers imagined themselves wearing different articles of clothing, such as business suits or butter-yellow, cashmere twinsets. Fluty watched and named how it affected their posture and body language.
“And then we blew that up, into the abstract,” Damon, 30, explains. She demonstrates how a sweater-buttoning action, exaggerated, became a florid, dancerly gesture. “That’s another spectrum in the work: the literal to the abstract. The ‘ricochet’ is us bouncing around in these spectrums. Accepting that all of us are many things.”
A team of designers helped Damon, a production stage manager by trade and cofounder of interdisciplinary performance group Synapse Arts, echo these investigations. Collin Bunting used a palette of grays for the dancers’ skirt-legged pants and shirts cut like tunics. Grant Sabin built three rolling walls that alternately hide and reveal the performers. Each of the walls’ six sides is hand-painted, with a different combination of the six layers in a floral wallpaper pattern.
Russell Weiss, 27, literalized Factor’s concepts in sound, to be mixed live while he watches from a raised platform. “I went to the range of frequencies that we can hear, from the very high to the very low, and organized them so that they play off of each other as the sound moves forward.” One section, nicknamed “Diamonds,” is a busy, high-pitched twinkling like wind chimes fast-forwarded; a bassy throb reverberates throughout a later section, “Mines.” To reference the “ricochet” part of the concept, Weiss cooperated with a “disadvantage” of his audio software, REAPER (Rapid Environment for Audio Production, Engineering and Recording). “It can’t process live sound instantaneously,” he explains. “If I hit my xylophone, it sounds in real-time, but there’s a 370-millisecond delay to it coming out of the speaker. So I used that as a strategy, setting up a series of echoes that are either multiples or even divisions of 370.”