Alexx Shilling is the Artistic Director/Choreographer of Alexx Makes Dances, a Filmmaker, and a wonderful performer. Her work has been presented nationally and internationally through residencies that include the Millay Colony and Ebenbökhaus / Jewish Museum in Munich. Since relocating to Los Angeles in 2010, her installations have been presented in warehouses, parks, alleyways, private homes and even bathrooms. Per Shilling’s website, her work “follows three unique strands: site-located performances that question the potential for transformation, the intersection between the fleeting immediacy of live dance and the preservation of still and moving images on film, and works that steal from artistic heroes as a way of paying tribute while simultaneously constructing new paradigms.”
Filmed in Wonder Valley, California, Shilling conceived, directed and edited The Other Side of Stillness. This latest installation was premiered at the Pieter Performance Space in Los Angeles. Two large screens were placed side-by-side for two separate films to be shown at the same time. Each film ran for approximately 30 minutes and, while playing on a loop, the installation lasted for two hours. With each run, one noticed subtle shifts in one film’s relationship to the other. On one screen, there was a close-up of a dancer’s face with wind blowing her hair around and the sun making her squint. Simultaneously on the other screen she was seen dancing energetically, alone and with another performer. Another scene showed only the heads of Shilling and Devika Wickremesinghe as they moved gently into an intimate position. On the other screen these same two performed large, space covering movement. This theme was repeated in several different forms, bringing to life the title of the work: The Other Side of Stillness.
There were several surprising moments that I will not spoil by writing about them here. People will have a chance to see this installation this coming spring. I will, however, give a slight hint to one such moment. An eerie vertical beam of light appears briefly, but it turns out to be something totally ordinary, but looking out-of-place in the night desert.
Shilling used editing techniques to reverse, slow down or reverse movement, but fortunately she resisted over using them. As an avid people watcher, I loved those scenes that focused solely on a performer’s face. One dancer’s face looked relaxed and serene, but the elegant Sarah Leddy appeared uncomfortable with the camera so close to her face. As her facial features tensed and relaxed, however, her internal thoughts and feelings came through in a manner rarely visible from a dancer onstage.
The movement seen in The Other Side of Stillness was first performed live in a two-hour duration installation for 5 or more duets, and the choreography was a collaborative creation between Shilling and several Los Angeles dance artists. Listed as the Modern Dancers of America, their names are Barry Brannum, Alison D’Amato, Sarah Leddy, Madison Page, Gwynn Shanks, Laurel Jenkins and Devika Wickremesinghe. Other contributing artists who did not appear in the film were Samantha Mohr, Meena Murugesan and Ian Isles. The original sound score by Jesse Neuman echoes the stark but amazingly beautiful Wonder Valley vista using digital and acoustic soundscapes. The Other Side of Stillness was shot by Taso Papadakis and, as previously stated, edited by Shilling.
This side-by-side film installation is very thought provoking and I highly recommend that one go see it when Shilling presents it again at the Highways gallery in conjunction with live performances on April 28 & 29. I hope, however, that the quality of the projections will be better. The films were projected by two laptop computers and their screens were visible from where I was sitting. The colors on those smaller screens were richer and probably closer to those seen in the desert, which made the less vibrant colors reproduced by the projectors more obvious. Technical issues aside, the choreography is not the total focus of this film. It is also the dancers’ interaction with the desert, the sun, the mystery of the night and the wind that gives The Other Side of Stillness its beauty.