Lizzie Leopold Reinvents the Dance Concert

The Leopold Group "A Correct Likeness" (Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis)

Lizzie Leopold is like one of those people who can take their car apart and then put it back together again, except that when she does put it back together, there's no telling what it might turn out to be. A race car, a limo, maybe even a luxury jet, who knows what she'd come up with; based on the way she's deconstructed the traditional dance concert format and come up with "A Correct Likeness", just about anything seems possible. The Leopold Group presented the first installments of this very unique show in October, and will return to Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery on December 1st and 2nd for two more performances. "I really set out to make dance in a space that would be comfortable for the dancers and for the audience," Leopold says, and goes on to describe how she was looking for a way to improve on the traditional kinds of interactions that are possible between performers and the people who come to see them dance.

The idea for a different kind of presentation expanded almost exponentially from there. "A Correct Likeness" is meant specifically to explore "the intersection of still photography and dance", and it's being produced by Leopold and lighting designer Joshua Paul Weckesser of Bread and Roses Productions. The Leopold Group had been working extensively with dance photographers Arn Klein and Matthew Gregory Hollis, and Leopold wanted to find a more visible way to feature their work with the Company than just displaying photographs online; later, as "A Correct Likeness" evolved, the work of dancer/photographer Jessie Young was included in the program as well. The Company describes the evening as "a dance performance / photography installation event", which it certainly is, but "A Correct Likeness" is actually much more than that.

The heart of the evening is the hour long live performance by the Leopold Group, who's choreographed movement is woven in and among an audience that wanders freely through the gallery's photography displays. Leopold says that it's actually been difficult to realize the degree of ease and informality that they've tried to encourage with the installation, if only because everybody is so inclined to be polite. The Company encourages people to enjoy the evening however they like though; the bar is open throughout the performance, and the audience can watch whatever part of the show shares the space where they find themselves. They're just as welcome to look at the photographs on display as you would in any gallery, or just listen to the hard ambient sounds of electronic duo Hard R, who provide the live soundtrack for the show.

For the Leopold Group dancers, it's a very different kind of concert, challenging and rewarding. Some of the music is prerecorded, but Hard R add to and manipulate the prerecorded portions in real time; the movement is choreographed, but the timing and the music are different with every performance. The dancers' movements, and especially their interactions, have to be continuously redesigned in full flight to include the audience that is essentially moving around on the same stage as they are. "There are so many things out of the dancers' control," Leopold says, "they don't don't know what the music will be like, they don't know what the space will be like."

The reason why all of this comes together so well is that it's all based on interactions between people in real time, and that can be the source of an unusually rich kind of creativity. "A Correct Likeness" begins with the idea of examining two very different ways that dancers and dance are presented, but from there ventures on a much more imaginative, and a much more complete, exploration of what 'choreography' actually means. "The exquisitely athletic bodies of the dancers animate their photographic counterparts," Leopold writes in her description of the program, "just as the photographs expose the fallacy of perceived, yet highly choreographed, spontaneity."

"A Correct Likeness" raises, and begins to answer, a whole series of interesting questions about dance and dance performance, but that's not all, not even most of, what it's meant to be. It's carefully thought out and intricately constructed, but first and foremost, it was put together to be enjoyable; the evening is designed for people to show up, have fun, and enjoy a dance performance in whatever ways they feel like enjoying it. It's as if Lizzie Leopold took apart a traditional Dance Concert, and when she put it all back together, what it turned out to be was just a big party.

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