Centrifuge Arts, and the Art of Defamiliarization

Thomas Burns Scully

  • OnStage New York Columnist

Viktor Shklovsky once said that the purpose of art was to make the familiar unfamiliar, and the unfamiliar familiar. If there is a company I can say that has taken this to heart, it is Centrifuge Arts. Or, the Centrifuge Artistic Collaborative, to give them their full name. I have had the chance to experience their work and found myself thoroughly defamiliarized. They are an intoxicating time. My first encounter with them was last year with their movement based piece ‘Symphony of the Fourth Dimension’. It was a disorienting, yet mesmerizing piece of theatre. It took seemingly ordinary situations and filtered them through the lens of time, allowing them to take on disparate and pleasantly perplexing new meaning. After the show, I fell in to conversation with one of the performers, a young lady by the name of Priscilla Gomez. She described the show as “A unique experience, I was exploring time through art but also myself.” The memory of ‘Symphony’ lingered with me for quite some time. So when Centrifuge announced that they were preparing another show, called ‘Through the Looking Glass’, I was intrigued. I also realized, that I had never written an article about ‘Symphony of the Fourth Dimension’. So I decided to remedy that by chatting with Ms. Gomez again, and her insights were sensational.

“In the music, text and movement I felt infinite,” says Gomez of Symphony. “We were so inspired by this idea of a tactile experience of time… we felt like we reached this point of transcendence by the end of it.” Watching ‘Symphony’, this was evident. There was a palpable feeling of suddenly seeing life through a panopticon, and of just barely understanding what you were watching, but knowing that it meant something. The piece dealt with its high-concept, almost sci-fi premise, in a way that few shows I have seen in my time as a reviewer do. With an honesty of physical display that evoked the spirit of Pina Bausch, with the energy of a Godard film.

Throughout all of this, it’s easy to be impressed with young dancer, Gomez. Her resume, for one, is enviable. A former student of not only The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but also the English National Ballet School. Since her recent entrance in to the New York acting scene her progress has been fierce and swift. Apart from her work with Centrifuge, she also starred in indie film ‘Please’ directed by Daryen Ru; was a principle in off-Broadway show, ‘Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic’; and headed up the cast of ‘The Dances of life and Death,’ which won best script in the ‘Thespis Theatre Festival.’ She has also been cast as the lead in upcoming series ‘L for Latino’ Directed by Elmer Salmeron. When asked about her achievements, she is typically modest, “I don’t really think about it as a resume, it’s things I’ve done that I loved doing. Calling it a resume sometimes feels like its cheapening the experience.”

Her role in ‘Symphony’ was essential. She played several characters, giving life to fragments of time. Priscilla was ‘Louis,’ the main character’s late grandmother. “She was the inspiration for the whole play,” Priscilla reveals. The character is a spirit, a memory and lives only in Odessa’s (the focal point of the play) dreams and memories. In tandem, she played the role of ‘The Eulogizer,’ a narrator role that commemorates those who have passed on. Priscilla also had a memorable dance solo, themed around gravity, where she crossed the universe to deliver a message of love. Watching her, the talent is obvious and immediate, and this in a room filled with extraordinary people. The crew involved in Centrifuge boasts LAMDA graduates, people who have performed at Carnegie Hall, and whose resumes include work under notable choreographers: Derek Mitchell, Sidra Bell, Mike Esperanza, and Ashle Dawson. As a collective, they really know how to collect people. “You’re only as good as who you’re working with,” Gomez says playfully, “So I guess that makes me pretty great right now.”

Reason enough then, for you to head on down to Centrifuge Arts when the time comes to engage in a little de-familiarization. When ‘Through the Looking Glass’ hits stages you can bet I will be there. Centrifuge Arts produce work that is not to be missed. Equal parts intricate modern dance and post-modern storytelling, their performances pieces push their exceptional performers beyond their wildest imagined boundaries. You will not see a shows like theirs at any other studio, that’s for sure. For the seeker of singular sensations, a visit to a Centrifuge Artistic Collaborative show is a must. Take it from me. Or, even better, take it from Gomez, who says “you will come and lose sense of time, you will lose all sense of self.” What more can you ask of a New York Friday night?

For more details of Centrifuge Arts, look them up at www.centrifugearts.com.

This article was written by Thomas Burns Scully, a New York based writer, actor and musician. His work has been lauded by TimeOut NY, the New York Times, BAFTA US, the Abbey Theatre Dublin and other smaller organizations too numerous to mention. His theatrical writing has been performed on three continents. He performs improv comedy professionally and plays lead guitar in two bands. He is generally considered to be the thrifty person’s Renaissance man. 

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