Multiform, a solo piece choreographed and performed by Amanda Acorn, begins by
drenching both dancer and audience in monochrome reddish-pink lighting. Acorn is kneeling on the floor, her hair grazing the ground as her head sways back and forth.
She is nude, but the coloured light seems to dress her, altering the context of her skin. It feels like noticing a ballet dancer is going barefoot; a signal that the dance itself is not going to be comprised of standard gestures, but something yet unknown.
The performance begins almost imperceptibly as Acorn’s body begins to slowly jerk back and forth, each movement repeated several times. In the red light, the stage recalls a photographic darkroom, with Acorn’s repetitions like individual frames of a film strip. Slight changes in each motion allow Acorn’s gestures to change gradually; she rises, moves across the floor, turns, moves up and down only after long periods of tiny adjustments to her gestures. Her motions provoke the frustration of making a call on a rotary phone, waiting for the wheel to return to its home position before being able to dial a new number. As the dance evolves, so does the music; the droning becomes louder, more irregular, eventually incorporating industrial noises and whistling to evoke a train station or factory. Acorn’s movements become more intense, with larger motions repeated
more quickly; more than once, it occurs to me that these violently repetitive movements must be agonizing to her body. The piece reaches a crescendo when Acorn jumps up and down several times, her body fully stretched out for a deeply satisfying few seconds before folding back down at the knees and hips.
Multiform was inspired by the art of Mark Rothko, the midcentury painter known for his colour field paintings in which rough-edged rectangles of colour appear on backgrounds of a contrasting colour. After years of searching for a coherent artistic voice, Rothko settled on his singular interest and spent years creating variations on a singular theme.
If a thing is worth doing once, it is worth doing over and over again – exploring it,
probing it, demanding by its repetition that the public look at it," he wrote in an artist’s statement. Despite his position in the canon of abstract expressionism, Rothko made it clear that his work was not about colour relationships or light, but about human emotions. He described his famously unused Seagram Building paintings as violent and savage; it is those later paintings that most relate to the physical strenuousness of Acorn’s dancing.
The mechanical aspect of Multiform is as central as its devotion to repetition. Watching Acorn thrash, heave and sway to the atonal droning, I am reminded of Koyaanisqatsi, the 1982 experimental film by Godfrey Reggio in which traffic, demolition, machinery and human activity are shown from a macro perspective. Like a factory machine stamping metal into car parts, or a the wheels and crank pins of a train, Acorn repeats some complex motions so quickly it’s hard to tell how exactly the cams and shafts of her choreography are functioning. However, the performance is not all mechanics: in the most subtle and tender moments at the beginning and end of her dance, when Acorn crouches low on the floor and moves her head and shoulders in smaller, more human motions, she evokes Janine Antoni in her 1993 performance piece Loving Care. Like Antoni, Acorn seems to be mixing paint, or smearing it across the floor. Antoni was referencing abstract expressionists like Jackson Pollock, who used unconventional means of applying paint to canvas, but Acorn’s motions are more ambiguous: is she painting, or is she mopping the floor clean? I can’t help but imagine the designs her hair dangling hair would trace across the floor during the entire performance.
The end of Multiform cleverly alludes to colour field painting using only an optical
illusion; when the dance ends and the lights are abruptly shut off, the pink lighting is so seared into our eyes that the darkness appears as an afterimage of deep teal. The darkness remains for several beats, delivering an experience of one single colour so immersive that it continues whether our eyes are open or closed. The moment is painterly and almost overwhelming in its simplicity and stillness after the complex machinery of Acorn’s performance.