April 28, “Still Life No. 7”

Choreography by: Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg

Some weeks ago, I had the honor of not only watching Still Life No. 7 but also moderating a post-show discussion about audience engagement for Simpson and Stulberg. Yes, I am behind; I call it slow blogging.

As I took my seat in a studio at Margret Jenkins Dance Lab, I gazed at the stage to take in the program notes that were projected on the wall. They included the standard information about the music, dancers, costumes, etc. I knew Simpson and Stulberg were trying a new format, but I didn’t know how much information they decided to provide. After the standard preliminaries, they offered additional notes: “Information and opinions about frequently asked questions you may or may not want to know before watching this dance,” which was followed by a series of questions (and answers):

What is a Still Life Dance?

What painting did you choose?

Is it good?

What does the dance mean?

No, tell me how to look at it. How should I watch this dance?

I don’t want to say anything stupid in the post-show discussion. Please help.

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Already, Stulberg and Simpson were engaging with their audience. I admit, most of the time when I sit down to a performance on my own I comb the program, check my phone, etc. Having the program notes “live” so to speak encouraged me to be in the space with others more; I even had a lovely chat with the person sitting next to me. The streaming questions and their answers suggested that we (the audience) watch Still Life No. 7 with curiosity and by “letting the dance fall on [us].”

Looking back at the scribbles in my notebook, several threads emerged. I’ve translated them here in a form that captures how Stil Life No. 7 unfolded for me. They are not necessarily linear, but points of contact and represent how the dance fell on me.

  • Bodies on the floor.
  • Light from stage left creating shadows.
  • Synchronous feet and leg rocking.
  • There was often no sound and space between movements, which allowed time for catching up or reflecting.
  • Then I noticed the sound of the costumes rubbing on the floor and then sniffs, coughing. “Yep” and “yeah” seemed to say “it’s ok,” “I get you,” or “I am with you.” Here, life breathing into the abstract.
  • The repeating verbal nonsense (purple church, tractor, Trader Joe’s) reflected how the stories in our heads can keep us from finding pauses or stillness in the everyday.
  • Coming to the piano, signing at it but not playing it.
  • The film at the end directed the gaze, directing us to see the particularities of movement, bodies, costumes.

Together, these observations reveal a dance steeped in different kinds of curiosities. Simpson and Stulberg drew us into a landscape that kept asking us to consider the stillness between light, sound, and movement and how that stillness is not empty but full of possibilities. How much light do we need to see others? To be with others? SCan it be enough to hear each other?  Stillness can connect us with each other.

The post-show discussion revealed a curious audience that was attentive to the not only the dancing on stage but also the dancing in their minds. While hesitant at first, the audience eventually warmed up and engaged very directly with Simpson and Stulberg about their work as well as how they engaged. I felt we could have talked for hours. Between the dancing and discussion, it was a full evening that challenged me to draw out the curiosities between myself, the dancers and the audience. As I made my way home, I pondered the fullness of stillness, noticing the shadows on the sidewalk, the sound of feet on the pavement, the rush of vehicles on the street, and the stories in my head.

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