This article was edited on December 31, 2020 to correct the names of performers.

On Tuesday, December 29, 2020 the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company (MJDC) premiered an extraordinary dance, music, spoken word and visual art film titled Breathing at the Boundaries, choreographed by Artistic Director Margaret Jenkins in collaboration with the MJDC dancers. It is a brilliant example of several incredibly talented artists from four countries uniting to overcome extreme challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic to produce a work that exceeds one’s expectations. This is the best pandemic era dance or art film that I have seen thus far, addressing our current situation while going far beyond its limitations.

Breathing at the Boundaries was originally conceived as a live-streaming event with four MJDC dancers performing live while four would be filmed in an assortment of locations, appearing via projections onto four panels spaced evenly across the performance space. Due to the increase in Covid restrictions and the mounting spread of the disease, the work now is a “fully filmic event with all dancers and musicians being filmed”.(per the MJDC press release). The visuals and editing for this work were completed by Alexander V. Nichols.

Running throughout is Rinde Eckert dressed as a janitor pushing an industrial broom in front of projections of office cubicles and empty hallways sweeping up pieces of post-it notes, scraps of note paper and photos from the floor of an empty office building; a building forced to close due to the pandemic. Eckert is a long-time collaborator with Jenkins. His role is that of a narrator, but he also performs a few solos and duets with other members of MJDC. He moves beautifully with the weight of a seasoned and grounded performer.

Dancers perform duets where one is onstage and the other appears via a projection, and everyone is wearing a face mask. The four panels give the live performer the ability to move around the one on film. These duets put on film what a large number of us are experiencing, the separation from family, friends and/or loved ones. In the first duet Chinchin Hsu performs outside on the lawn of a home while Dalton Alexander performs onstage. Alexander moves in front of, around and uses gestures of caressing Hsu. Their movements are different, but come together through similar tempos and traveling phrases, uniting two like-minded people living apart.

Breathing at the Boundaries - Pictured: Alex Carrington and Kelly Del Rosario - Photo courtesy of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

Breathing at the Boundaries – Pictured: Alex Carrington and Kelly Del Rosario – Photo courtesy of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company

Another duet featured Corey Brady and Norma Fong filmed separately in their own homes. Brady’s performance is projected on panels 1 and 3 (left to right) while Fong’s is seen on panels 2 and 4. Here again, their movement is different. Fong’s is more introspective while Brady uses wide sweeping arm and leg gestures. What unites them is when their movement changes levels or moves from one side of the room to the other that they are each in.

There are several other duets, but only one involves the two dancers actually physically touching. Alex Carrington and Kelly Del Rosario perform a beautifully moving duet that feels like a private conversation between the two. Another projected duet takes place on a tiled patio where the two dancers, Kristen Bell and Kelly Del Rosario, take turns circling the other, performing different movement that occasionally unites in unison. Carrington also appears live onstage and performs in unison with his projected self, and when it is his turn to encircle Bell, he moves between the panels to not only move around Bell, but also himself. Near the end he is moving in the opposite direction of his own image.

There is an extraordinary solo performed by the beautiful Crystaldawn Bell. Her movement involves more leg extensions and formal technique requiring dance phrases. The mood is quiet, however, and Bell performs with wonderful clarity, control and a sense of fearlessness while her image is superimposed onto the tops of yellow leaved trees and other exterior locations.

We get a far-too-brief solo performed by the amazing Margaret Jenkins, whom I have know since I first moved to New York City in 1967. Dancing in a narrow lane between two ancient stone buildings in Israel, Jenkins proves that she can still hold an audience in the palm of her hand, even if for oh, such a fleeting moment.

The guest artists from China and India perform gorgeous solos projected onto the panels while a MJDC dancer performs live onstage. The guest performers included Cross Move Lab (US/China) Artistic Director, Performer Guanglei Hui and Resident Choreographer, Performer Yahui Lu; Kolben Dance Company (Israel) Artistic Director Amir Kolben, Dancer Emeritus Nitzan Bardichev, and Dancer Emeritus Irit Amichai Gabinet; and Tanusree Shankar Dance Company (India) Artistic Director Tanusree Shankar, Performer Indranil Ghosh, and Performer Joyita Pal.

Sections of Breathing at the Boundaries were filmed in San Francisco, Israel, China, and India. The collaborators were Dancer/Choreographer Margaret Jenkins; Cinematographer, Editor, and Lighting Designer Alexander V. Nichols; Composer Paul Dresher; Writer, Librettist, Composer, Musician, Performer, and Director Rinde Eckert; Poet, Translator Michael Palmer; and Costumes by the MJDC dancers.

After thinking through this amazing work of art called Breathing at the Boundaries, I am left with a sense of beautifully layered textures; textures created by dance, film, music and the spoken word. Yes, part of this is due to the magic of film editing and one image superimposed upon another, but it is also the choreography, the motion in front, around and behind panels, and Dresher’s score that evokes images of rain, wind, rocks, and other earthly elements combined periodically by a crystal clear female singing voice.  The piece is about breath and the lack of it, but more importantly, it breathes powerfully as a work of art and as a glimmer of hope for our future.

Breathing at the Boundaries will be available to stream on-demand until January 6, 2021. I highly recommend that you see this film.

To view Breathing at the Boundaries, click HERE.  Free

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Breathing at the Boundaries – Pictured: Dalton Alexander, Alex Carrington, and Kelly Del Rosario – Photo courtesy of the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company