Critical State

Critical State
A Multimedia Performance Installation

Critical State is an interdisciplinary event directed by Polly Motley. In it media, performance, audience and environment are mutually enhanced. Video by Molly Davies, lighting by Stefan Jacobs, sound by Samuel Haar, with dancers Steve Paxton, Diane Madden, Joyce S. Lim, Stacy Spence, Ellen Smith Ahern and Polly Motley.

In chemistry and condensed-matter physics, a critical point, also called a critical state, specifies the conditions at which a phase boundary ceases to exist, for example when a vapor changes to liquid.

In Critical State, each combination of dancers (solos, trios, etc) and each module of sound, video, lighting, and set is a distinct phase: a theatrical vignette, a dance sequence, a video projection, a sonic event. The phases, at critical points, are transformed by one another into something else, another phase, investigating the critical state.

Motley's works for out-of-theatre spaces are relative to the architecture and art of the specific site. The performance, art, and architecture are mutually enhanced because they coexist. Careful juxtapositions of color, texture, speed, volume, scale, content, and timing assure not just compatibility and coherence, but beautiful marriages. Critical State will be anchored in the environment of the historic River Arts building in Morrisville, Vermont. This beautiful building is an integral part of the Morrisville community, having previously been a Grange Hall and the Peoples Academy School.

4 Minute Video:

River Arts Presents Critical State
September 1-3, 2011
Performance Ongoing: 5:30-8:30p.m.

Critical State will be held at River Arts September 1-3, 2011. Under the direction of acclaimed dancer and choreographer Polly Motley, renowned local and international artists collaborate in an enthralling multimedia performance.

This innovative contemporary performance breaks out of traditional dance and theater forms by encouraging audiences to move through the space actively, exploring the works in and around the building. Audiences encounter a diverse array of simultaneous works in the environment of the River Arts Grange Hall, which is enchantingly transformed through lighting, video, sound and movement.

The 6 dancers, 4 video artists, sound and lighting designers compose live, in spaces throughout the River Arts site. During each 3-hour performance, the artists transform the environment through the play of memory, ritual and transformation. Audiences discover and delight within this creative milieu.

For tickets: 802.888.1261


The collaborators are illustrious artists with international careers. Half the cast is from Vermont and others are from Malaysia and New York.

Director Polly Motley's performances have been presented by venues including the Asia Society, the Baryshnikov Art Center, Danspace Project, The Kitchen, Dance Theatre Workshop, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, The Indonesian Dance Festival, the Contemporary Arts Museum/Houston, and DIVA/Paris. Her current work focuses on performance installations for museums and out-of-theater spaces. Dancer Joyce S. Lim from Malaysia has received multiple fellowships for research and performance in Japanese and Southeast Asian traditional and contemporary performance forms. She brings an expertise in Noh, a traditional Japanese theater form. Dancer Steve Paxton formerly of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the radical Grand Union, is renowned for his innovative thinking and the creation of the dance form, Contact Improvisation. A recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and grants from the John D. Rockefeller Fund, Paxton has toured extensively for over 30 years. Dancer Diane Madden was called “my muse” by Trisha Brown, danced with the Trisha Brown Dance Company for many years and currently is its rehearsal director. She is a renowned teacher whose workshops and choreography are sought after throughout Europe and the U.S. Dancer Ellen Smith Ahern is one of Vermont's finest emerging choreographers. A former member of the Jane Comfort Dance Company, Smith Ahern has formed a new company in Burlington that has been supported by state and regional grants, and the Flynn Theatre. She has just completed an acclaimed seven country European tour. Dancer Stacy Spence danced with Trisha Brown Dance Company before traveling internationally to teach and choreograph his own work and teach the Trisha Brown repertory.

Video Designer Molly Davies' work includes collaborations with John Cage, David Tudor, Sage Cowles and Jackie Matisse, is in the collections of the Getty Institute, the Walker Art Center and Centre Pompidou, and has been shown at the Venice Film Festival among other international venues.

Composer Samuel Haar is a multi-instrumentalist who works primarily with electronic and recorded sound in NYC. He toured Europe, Russia, the U.S. and South America last year with his band, Blonde.

Lighting Designer Stefan Jacobs was Technical Director in New York for The Kitchen, The Flea Theater, Symphony Space and was a founding member of the New York International Fringe Festival. He teaches and is the lighting designer for dance and theatre at University of Vermont.

Artists' Notes

Sam Haar
As a sound artist I am constantly fascinated by the relationship that sound forms with its surroundings. I am inspired by the musical and emotional content of all sounds, the interaction of the phenomena of sound in physical space, and the possibility of ecstatic states.
In relationship to dance sound can exist as accompaniment, as an extension of the dancer's physicality, such as in voice amplification or modification, or as an extension of the physical space as vibrations in the air.
Critical State will explore these different relationship states within the spatial dimension. Sound will be installed throughout the two-story River Arts building creating an intelligent network of sonic and musical experiences. The soundscape will consist of a mix of pre-composed accompaniment to specific dances; architectural enhancements; live performances; and extensions of the dancers' movement. New forms will emerge throughout the system as the dancers, video, lighting, and sets transition, move from room to room, react, and juxtapose,
I'm interested in engaging the audience in the exploration of sound and musical gesture through space in relation to the images and movement. The performance will be a mutating 4-dimensional sculpture (of space and time) that one can wander through at any pace, creating a multitude of unique experiences.
I have successful experience working with sound for dance, performance, and installation. Critical State represents a shift in scope and process; it is a chance to fuse previously separate interests into a new collaborative environment and advance my work by evolving my previous explorations into new territory.

Molly Davies
I am interested in working on a video installation for Critical State because of the different parameters and choices this new piece offers. Since the 1970's I have experimented with multiple projections and dancers on a stage. This work had to be in a theater with a seated audience who watched a piece with a beginning, middle, and end: a piece in which the sequence of images and the relationship to the dancers was always the same. In contrast, Critical State will always be shown in a flexible situation. The audience chooses when and where to watch which dancers, and which video monitors. As there will be a live mix to the monitors, the images will vary with each performance. And, how long someone chooses to watch, and in what order is unpredictable. Critical State can only be viewed as an accumulation of events experienced through time, the understanding or meaning of the whole coalescing in the mind of the viewer. One sees individual trees while walking through the area and intuits the forest.
I worked on one other piece with Polly Motley, AUTOPSY, which could not be experienced in one room. This work also had a performer with live video, monitors, and live music and video mixes. It was a very effective piece. I am particularly interested to see this form extended through many spaces with six performers. In this case, I imagine the monitors to work as a thread through the building linking the performers from room to room, something to hold onto, anticipate, or refer back to.

Polly Motley
I am curious about concentrated states of being - what they look like, how they evolve, how they influence others, the time, and the space around them. Dancing this is not usually spectacular. Nevertheless, I want to engage an audience with such concentration and transformation. One strategy is to have the audience close for extended periods of time to magnify details of movement and experience. The work I am currently making, Critical State, will be performed in several rooms using sound and video to connect the performers and audience in the spaces. Monitors and microphones will communicate timing and intent to the audience and help to simultaneously emphasize details and overview. There will be an interplay of set material and scored improvisation for the dancers as well as the sound and video artists. Video, sound and lighting will create an enveloping milieu with a live mix that the audience may watch. In this work we will all be alert to the inter-changing states of the dancers, media and milieu.
As a soloist, I have successfully navigated site-specific, time-based inter-media work. Critical State marks for me a new relationship to ensemble with all its challenging multiplicity. As Jeanette Winterson wrote, " is always about relationship--to the material, to the self, and to the world in all its chaos and intrusion, its terror and its glory." (New York Times 12/20/09)
Along with the complexity of this work, I maintain an aesthetic of simplicity: I value a direct, intimate relationship with an audience; I am inspired by the elegance of a single gesture; and I seek dancing that reveals an inner life.

Here's a collection of images by photographer Lauren Stagnitti of Critical State- please credit Lauren Stagnitti if you use these.

Critical State is supported in part with grants from the Robison Foundation, the Vermont Arts Council and the New England Foundation for the Arts, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.