All Aboard? Almost There, but Not Quite

The first thing that comes to mind at the opening of All Aboard, presented by the Armstrong/Bergeron Dance Company as a “multi-media dance work based on trains,” is an old work that led audiences to run out of the theater screaming. With a beep of a horn in darkness followed by an oversized film of a subway heading towards the audience, the similarity is strong between this scene at the Linhart Theatre at 440 Studios and the experience audiences had in 1895 while watching one of the earliest moving films, L’Arrivée d'un train à La Ciotat by the Lumiere brothers. Being unfamiliar with the medium of film, audiences were reported to be terrified of the looming locomotive.

Like the Lumiere brothers, co-artistic directors Carisa Armstrong and Christine Bergeron are innovators of their field, challenging the conventions of modern dance by using multimedia. Their work doesn’t send audiences scrambling for the door, but it does leave something to be desired.

Broken up into seven sections, the dance portrays aspects of a typical train ride: from finding the best seat to the final departure. This work evades the downtown dance genre because of its extensive use of film. In addition to the opening sequence, interviews are shown with train conductors and passengers. Other footage includes the dancers repeating live movements in Grand Central Station. The video, projected on a constantly changing screen, notably distracts from the dancers, pulling the focus away from the suspension-filled choreography.

The exception to this is in A Look into the Past, a solo for Ms. Armstrong. Her lyrical style subtly demands attention more than the video. She relates to the screen in a more complimenting way than the other dancers.

Another successful excerpt without film is Chug-a Chug-a Choo Choo, featuring 5 of the company’s 7 females. Without challenging technique, the choreography allows the personalities of the dancers to shine as they impersonate a train. The dancers are visibly more comfortable performing to familiar music, by the Asylum Street Spankers, rather than the mix of train noises and verbal anecdotes to which most of the work is set. Ms. Bergeron seems to be the only dancer who can move naturally to these sounds.

While the purpose of including film is clear, All Aboard may be more effective if the video is limited to the opening segment. A single clip could set the stage for an evening of dance alone based on the transitory nature of trains. Theater audiences may not appreciate the contrast of dance versus film, but modern dance enthusiasts can certainly be on board.

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