Full-Length Dance

October 5th, “extreme lyric I”

A week after seeing Hope Mohr’s newest piece, extreme lyric I, I sit down to write a response and realize I am late to the game; David E. Moreno on Culture Vulture and Dasha Bulatova on Repeat Performances have already published reviews. I admit to reading them along with Marie Tollon’s interview with Mohr. Even so, I am still sorting through the hour-long piece. Still sifting through its fragments of text, movement, and sound.

A week later, what remains? What do I remember? I remember walking into the theater without looking at the program the performance was already in progress, the audience sitting in a square on the stage. Four dancers covered in plastic moved behind a mostly transparent curtained square. Projected on the curtain, Sappho’s fragments (in English and Greek) textualized the performance space – 31, 94, 130, 147.

I knew the piece was based on Anne Carson’s translations of Sappho, the 7th-century Greek poet. She and her work exist primarily by fragments. In the program, Mohr and writer Maxe Crandall wrote: “In this work, we move around and through what we take to be her feminist and queer forms of erotic independence and radical embodiment.”  The erotic resonated clearly for me, but radical embodiment less so. Do I need these reference points? What do they 

My notes are fragments; some are illegible while others remain mysteries.

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I recall the sounds of bodies moving under lightweight plastic that gave the impression of sculptures while the voices and movement of Mohr and Crandall referenced a Greek chorus. Words passed and passing between the dancers and speakers. At one point, Crandall and Mohr laid down on their sides in the middle of the square and said we need “a different kind of protest where we lie down and moan.” They make declarations: “Sappho’s body is leaking,” “Sappho is obsessed,” and “Sappho is just out of reach.” The soundscape composed by Theodore J. H. Hulsker amplifies the space, creating a moody and muddy atmosphere contributing to a world where bodies are other-worldly but also sensual, almost siren-like, beckoning and naming their “I”s not as identifiers but as possibilities.

I don’t recall specific movements, but recall conversations in the lobby afterward that the dancing was, as always, precise, committed, and strong. I was glad when the curtains dropped and the dancers emerged from their plastic shrouds, passing into a more physical space.

The longer it takes to write this, the harder it is to collect a whole picture. But I don’t think that matters too much. What lingers is a sense that even fragments have something to say even if that something is fleeting or a wondering. For me, I might wander to a bookstore for Anne Carson’s book on Sappho. Or maybe I’ll read the one on my shelf about Eros. This is how extreme lyric I will linger for me; in the possibility of words and the mystery of fragments.

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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.

PARAMODERNITIES: A SERIES OF DANCE EXPERIMENTS, NETTA YERUSHALMY ODC THEATER, FEB. 23RD

Installment #3 – A Conversation with Julian Carter, finis.

“Paramodernities #3: Afterlives of Slavery” A Response to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations (1960)
M: For me, Thomas DeFrantz’s performative lecture was the central element in “Paramodernities #3: Revelations: The Afterlives of Slavery.” In my research and writing about repetition I’ve thought a lot about Revelations; it is the single most-repeated concert dance, done even more frequently than the Nutcracker. I have studied this piece for years (watching, reading, reflecting). Yet DeFrantz’s commentary allowed me to see its constant repetitions in a different way. For one, he gave me access to what it might feel like to dance Revelations. I am a white female body sitting in an audience but watching this performance I was able – for a moment – to be on the inside, and able to place myself differently in relation to the piece.

The movement vocabulary, performed by 5 dancers, visibly referred to and sometimes copied iconic moments in Ailey’s piece. For DeFrantz, the reason to repeat Revelations is not only that audiences expect it (which they do), but also that it needs to make its claims again and again in a world that continues to perpetuate racism in its social systems and philosophical thinking–and also in its performances. I was struck by DeFrantz’s explicit commentary on the pervasiveness of racism in dance performances, histories, and theories. Repeating Revelations lets African American bodies re-inhabit and reimagine spaces of black power. And Yerushalmy’s white body, performing these movements alongside Black-identified dancers Ayorinde, Engel-Adams, Gambucci, and Leichter, created a moment to consider Ailey’s role and legacy as the bearer of Blackness in modern dance.

How did you respond to “Paramodernities #3”?

J: Honestly I was blown away by it. We’ve been so busy digging into these dances we haven’t stopped to say how powerfully we responded to them–how much we loved this whole evening. Both of us wanted to go back the next night, and both of us are talking about making the pilgrimage to Jacob’s Pillow in August 2018 so we can watch the whole cycle. This is extraordinarily intelligent dance-making, deeply thought through and compellingly performed.

For me, the Ailey segment was the most viscerally powerful of the three dances we saw because its academic and kinetic components were most closely interwoven. Each of the other scholars had something rich to offer–I don’t mean to suggest that their contributions were insubstantial or unimportant. But DeFrantz is a performer as well as a scholar, and he entered his bodymind into the dance with a fullness and passion that made sparks fly.  

One comment he made in passing was that “slavery called for difference, in order to allow for an exploitation of energy as labor.” This resonates for me with your interest in repetition. Because one of the things Revelations does is enshrine Blackness in the white-dominant modern dance canon, it is always a performance of racial difference; and as concert dance, it exists in the transformation of energy into labor. Its celebration of a US Black creative tradition is also the repetition of enslavement’s wounding work. DeFrantz asked at one point whether that repetition is inevitable; I am not sure whether “Paramodernities #3” answers the question, but the question itself would seem to be what Yerushalmy and DeFrantz are driving at in subtitling this Paramodernity “The Afterlives of Slavery.”

M: The audience was asked to sit around the stage; we opted for the floor, others were in chairs and some stayed put. This closing in reflected a kind of intimacy that ran through all three of these Paramodernities. In #1 the audience lights were kept on, in #4 the dancers directly engaged us with questions, in #3 we were invited to frame the dance. Overall, I felt invited into a conversation. I wish the talkback at the end of the show was organized differently so that conversation could continue.

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There is much more to respond to “Paramodernities #3” – DeFrantz’s script; Yerushalmy’s dancing white body; the impact of the men dancers performing gestures from roles composed for women.Two weeks later we are still eager to continue this conversation! Yerushalmy’s work continues to resonate with us both. We haven’t really circled back to how modernity is articulated through these three Paramodernities, nor did we dig into ideas about gender, legacy, and sexuality that came up for both of us. For me this reflects how these dances don’t really seem quite “done.” They are alive–the task of reworking, refashioning, and reimagining is never really over.

Yerushalmy seems to agree–at least, Paramodernities continues at Jacob’s Pillow this August. I would welcome the opportunities to see these three dances again and continue our conversation. Perhaps that is the best way to end our conversation – a yearning for more watching and writing. Thanks for talking with me J!

J: Thank you so much for letting me play in your blogspace, Michelle!

 

Paramodernities: A Series of Dance Experiments, Netta Yerushalmy ODC Theater, Feb. 23rd

Installment #2 – A Conversation with Julian Carter Continued

“Paramodernities #4: An Inter-Body Event” A Response to Merce Cunningham’s Rainforest, Sounddance, Points in Space, Beach Birds (1968-1991)

M: Eventually, I want to talk about how modernity is articulated through all three of the Paramodernities we saw. It’s interesting that we can’t make the segments of the dance line up in our conversation about them. Everything we consider seems to take us forward, or back.

J:  Right. I like how this nonlinear quality in our response amplifies Yerushalmy’s complex construction of time. I also like your observation that history is a locational technology. It’s part of what I find both interesting and disjunctive about Yerushalmy’s beginning with Nijinsky: unlike Cunningham or Ailey–the other dance-makers she took apart for San Francisco audiences–Nijinsky’s movement isn’t part of routine training anymore, which is why she had to go to reconstructed work to get its components. The early twentieth-century modernist avant-garde habitus is the dance equivalent of an archaic dialect. From our moment it’s easy to confuse its archaism with its simple pastness. But in its moment this aesthetic was simultaneously “modern” and also intentionally “primitive.” Rite of Spring was in its time shocking in part because it refused to maintain a safely superior distance from an imagined cultural past in which white Europeans were not yet “civilized.” I thought about the Orientalist racial fantasies embedded in the sheer awkward angularity of Nijinsky’s choreography and wondered why the lecture text didn’t draw on postcolonial theory at all since it could imaginably help us think about the connection between dance and the specifically racial underpinnings of the nation-state and its imperial metastasizations. I see what you mean when you suggest that some of the theoretical themes of “Paramodernities #1” might have resurfaced in DeFrantz’s lecture in “Paramodernities #5” One way this happened in his explicit introduction of racism as the condition within which both dance and theory are made. But we’ll get back to that later.

At the end of “Paramodernity #1” Yerushalmy came downstage center and whipped out about 10 vertical jumps landing in that knock-kneed pigeon-toed stance: wonderful and terrifying, her evident athletic capacity no guarantee that her ligaments would put up with that abuse. The last word on the modern was recklessness. Maybe it was also despairing, and maybe that’s hindsight. In 1913 we didn’t know World War was coming. One, let alone two. In any case, the contemporary dancers of “Paramodernity #4” appeared from upstage while she sprang into the air. Their bodies seemed very much of our current moment. About the same height and equally elongated, the chief visual difference between them was that he wore a greenish shirt and hers was red; and she wore her hair natural, which made her silhouette resemble an upside-down exclamation mark. When did Yerushalmy’s more compact body leave the stage? Three readers came from the center of the house to thread their way between the dancers, taking the straightest line across the marly to sit against the back wall the way one might hang out in the studio watching a rehearsal.I felt as though I was somehow in or behind the mirror toward which the dancers were performing.

M: I felt a jump into “Paramodernity #4” – all of a sudden we were transported into 1960’s Cunningham-land. I wonder what the piece would have been like with music (at the end the dancers noted its absence due to some technical glitch). Their movements were very clear references or copies of Cunningham’s movement vocabulary, which they called their “dictionary.” I like this idea and wonder if encyclopedia might even be a better term. I’m recalling an essay by  Charles Van Dore, “The Idea of an Encyclopedia” (1962), which advocates for a rethinking of the American encyclopedia that is “dull” and unimaginative in its purpose. Van Dore proposes that encyclopedias “should create a synthesis where none is thought to be possible. It should carve a new order out of the chaos that has swept away the old. It should think of itself as an important – perhaps even the most important – tool for the reconstruction of a world that has meaning.” I am drawn to thinking about how “Paramodernity #4” created a “new” version and vision of Cunningham and what it teaches or instructs us about modern thinking. Aside from Cunningham’s place in dance history, what do his dances say about how to speak?

I’ve always felt that in a different version of my dance career I could have been a Cunningham dancer. There is something timeless about his movement for me, something that my body physically is drawn to.

J: I haven’t had that feeling– but it is interesting that from such different places we each had a sense of being solicited to join the performance. I also liked the movement dictionary–and I see what you mean about the encyclopedic element to Yerushalmy’s project. When the dancers demonstrated their dictionary they simultaneously described its classification system: here are the movements that bend to the left, and here are the movements that travel backward. I found it oddly charming that they kept executing new “entries” after they stopped naming them.

The other thing I responded to about “Paramodernity #4”  is its formal elegance, both spatial and conceptual. I appreciated how Claudia LaRocco paid tribute to Cunningham’s explorations of chance: she brought two other people onstage with her to read materials she hadn’t heard until they performed them next to her (a different pair performed their equally fresh and surprising texts the next night). The writers – both in their entry and in their little row at the back of the stage – seemed to me to do some of the work of a corps, strung out in a comparatively static row that provided a kind of counterpart to the continuous kinetic work the two soloists were doing.

M: “Paramodernity #4” had a meditative quality to it but seemed a little long, as if I could almost close my eyes for a minute and not miss anything. It is interesting to think of the speakers/writers as a kind of corps de ballet. The Ancient Greek chorus moved, spoke, and sang to help move the drama along. Why did words matter to creating “Paramodernity #4”? I’m not exactly sure what Yerushalmy was trying to do, yet I thought maybe the addition of the writers/speakers was an attempt at closing distance. One way I’ve thought about Cunningham choreography is how is large and distant it feels and looks: the reach of bodies in space, the vacant stage, large backdrops (e.g. in Pond’s Way). Even the dancers maintain steady and long gazes. So maybe the speech in the piece is an attempt at breaking up that Cunningham distance. At the end, the dancers came downstage to talk to the audience, prompting us to ask questions while they moved, which further broke this distance — we learned about how the movements felt and what the dancers were thinking. While all this speech enlivened the piece quite a bit, I’m not sure how much it added conceptually. Cunningham choreography, to me, always speaks for itself.

J: The meditative element you describe reminds me of an essay called “We Are All Very Anxious” that proposed the characteristic affect of the “postwar” US–when Cunningham was making the dances Yerushalmy worked with– was boredom. I don’t mean that as any kind of dig. When I’m teaching people how to go to live performance I explain that letting yourself drift is one of your available options, and noticing when and how that happens is part of the experience of audiencing, full of information both about the art and about you as the substance in which it lands. I tell them that the performance is what happens between artist and audience. That is why it’s usually theorized as ephemeral. Yet performance can also contain some traces of its own past, some information about the world in which the piece was made and the contours of past ephemeralities. That is, the way I drifted in response to  “Paramodernity #4” might reflect something about the specifically midcentury modernity to which it responds. When Cunningham’s movement speaks for itself, one of the things Yerushalmy has it say is that the present is all there is: and it stretches to fill every moment. This might be part of why at the end of the piece the dancers came downstage–to the same place that Yerushalmy did her knock-kneed jump sequence in fact–and repeated one phrase about 30 times while chatting with the audience.

I want to circle back to LaRocco’s opening observation that everybody calls Merce Merce, like calling Cher Cher. I found this distracting both because I don’t (I call him Cunningham, or Merce Cunningham–I know it’s old-fashioned of me but there’s something about presuming a right to social intimacy with strangers that rubs my feminist sensibilities wrong) and because we never revisited the themes of pop celebrity and feminine glamor that the comparison raised. Was LaRocco suggesting something about Cunningham’s gender? If so, was that a displaced acknowledging of his gayness? The suggestion flashed by and was gone, resurfacing only in the dancers’ later acknowledgment that Merce preserved standard gender roles for lifts and supports, while they undid these through the simple device of having the person we were supposed to receive as a woman learn the parts Cunningham choreographed for people we see as men. As though we can now, from our postmodern state of constant war, look back at the compositions of “postwar” modernity and make compensatory adjustments to Cunningham’s choreographic closet. As though his gayness weren’t an open secret then too. As though he needs us to recuperate his decision-making, the things he didn’t leave open to chance: who lifts, and who is lifted.

M: We haven’t touched on the questions Yerushalmy projected on the screen. These asked us to consider repetition, legitimacy, modernity, and racism. One of these–“Are the modernities of the body always white?”–was the starting point for “Paramodernities #3: the Aterlives of Slavery” A Response to Alvin Ailey’s Revelations.

Paramodernities: A Series of Dance Experiments, Netta Yerushalmy ODC Theater, Feb. 23rd

Installment #1 – A Conversation with Julian Carter

Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project brought Netta Yerushalmy’s Paramodernities to San Francisco. Yerushalmy describes this work as a “meditation on modernism.” These dance experiments are generated through “systematically deconstructing landmark modern dance choreographies” that are “performed alongside contributions by scholars from different fields in the humanities, who situate these iconic works within the larger project of modernity.” Paramodernities explores foundational tenets of modern discourse – such as sovereignty, race, feminism, and nihilism – and includes public discussions as integral parts of each installment.

I was lucky to watch this dance alongside Julian Carter, who graciously accepted an invitation to have a “diablog post” with me. Because we have a lot to say about Paramodernities, this will be a series of 3 installments on each of the three dance experiments.

“Paramodernities #1: The Work of Dance in the Age of Sacred” A Response to Vaslav Nijinsky’s The Rite of Spring (1913)

J: “Paramodernities #1” opened with a scenario you might find in any number of contemporary art spaces: a youngish man, sitting at a white AV table slightly to one side of a large white screen a few feet away. Over the speakers, we heard him say “I am sitting on a stage operating a cassette tape recorder. These are my words, but this is not my voice.” Then he stopped the tape, rewound it, and pushed play again–four times.

This repetition points to nonspontaneity and repetition are and nonlinear temporality as core themes of this work. When Netta Yerushalmy entered she was almost unobtrusive, energetically coiled into herself, hopping and shuffling in highly deliberate but uncommunicative patterns: a huge stomping circle, a triplet of small vertical jumps, a sideways scuttle with the head tilted to one side and framed by the forearms. After she’d been dancing for a minute the recorded voice told us “Netta will dance movements she did not invent.” She was moving more or less in place, parallel with the theorist-sound guy-person, between the table and the screen; here she repeated a short movement sequence while he described her compositional process, in which she extracts vocabulary from dances and reassembles its elements. Something about this sequence seemed like a microcosm of the piece. Yerushalmy kept returning to her in-between place – neither authentic nor innovative, neither organic nor technologically avant-garde, neither reverent nor skeptical about the past. Right from the beginning, Netta enacted a version of modernity that simultaneously mobilizes and questions many of its core premises and assumptions.

Netta Yerushalmy. Paramodernities, ODC Theater, San Francisco, 23 February, 2018. Photo: Michelle LaVige

Some such distancing may inhere in the performance of vintage choreography. These movements (Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring) were composed 105 years ago, and they manifest a relation to the modern that isn’t part of any living dancer’s active cultural repertoire. But where reconstructed dances typically devote themselves to accuracy, this one is more interested in its non-approximate identical intimacy with remobilization of its source material. While Netta carved herself into shapes like those Nijinsky used to make, the projected images of Descartes with Queen Christina gave way to engravings of Leviathan and we were treated to a lecture on the overlapping history of ballet and the modern nation-state. Was the scholarly performance part of the mimicry of the modern, where mimicry is understood as repetition-with-a-difference? If so, I could have used a little more weight on the difference side. Nijinsky’s transformation of ballet in Sacre shows us that the geometry of rationalized space can be radically reimagined, and all dancers know that space can’t be separated from time; so why leave the smooth path of Western political and intellectual history uninterrogated? I was disappointed that the textual aspects of the performance treated the linear sequence of European political and intellectual history as immune to creative recombination; I’m ready for some formal innovation there. Given the rigorous examination of multiple temporalities in the rest of the performance, it seemed sad to ask the past to keep on bearing the sober burden of the Real.

One additional observation before I hand this over to you: keeping the house lights up the whole time was an interesting choice. I wonder whether that’s part of why we didn’t cuddle up the way we usually do while we watch dance together? There’s something about sitting in the dark that makes such intimacy seem easier. With the house lights up, I’m more alert in the work of audiencing and less likely to retreat into dreaminess or to let myself drift here and there. My boyfriend said it made him feel like he was with the performance more than at the performance.

M: The lights for me were also an interesting choice – as if we were looked at as much as we were looking at the performers or as if we were in a lecture hall instead of a theater. It made sense given Yerushalmy’s framing of these pieces as “dance experiments.” They might not “belong” in a darkened theater. During the talk-back, Yerushalmy acknowledged using Joffrey Ballet’s reconstruction of Rite of Spring to develop her movement vocabulary. She seemed a little shy about this admission; I wonder why. Is it because there is no “true” Rite of Spring to deconstruct and rework? Even the Joffrey Ballet version, which was impressively researched, involved speculation and estimation.

To me, “Paramodernities #1” seemed to reflect back to us, show us, that history (dance or otherwise) is a practice of thinking about where we are. The use of an old slide projector and cassette player was smart — it played with the possibility that the past is not fully past and that the old can be made anew. I was struck by the repeating nature of Yerushalmy’s posture. The carriage of her body was rigid; it seemed hard for her to bend in certain ways. Her arms flexed sharply at the elbows toward her abdomen and her legs bent inward, making her knees knock and her feet pigeon-toed. This posture created a restricted and strained quality in her movement; how much could she actually move? While she danced around the space, sometimes flat-footed and other times in a turned-in relevé, she kept repeating the same vocabulary in different directions. After a while the phrases began to suggest (even embody) Stravinsky’s music. It was as though Yerushalmy’s movements were serving as a kind of score. The history of Nijinsky’s dance is unavoidably tied to the history of the score so it’s interesting that “Paramodernities #1” didn’t need the music. I found the lecture that overlapped with Yerushalmy’s dancing to be a little fragmented. Were some of those historical and conceptual threads picked up later in Thomas DeFrantz’s lecture, or in the speaker/writers that Yerushalmy incorporated into Paramodernities #4″ somehow? Does it matter? 

December 22nd, “Nutcracker” Washington Ballet

Choreography by Septime Webre

I took my daughter to her first Nutcracker. I’ve lost track of how many different versions I’ve seen or danced. I have not lost track of my growing fascination with it as a repeating feature of U.S. dance culture (that will have to wait until next year).

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This time, it was enough for me to watch my daughter be enthralled with the dancing toy soldiers and the swirling snow scene. It was aptly “D.C.” with cardinals instead of ribbon candy and dancing cherry blossoms. It had many kids and a local celebrity. It had nutcrackers and more for sale in the lobby. The tradition continues.

For now, that is about all I have to say about the Nutcracker.

October 29th, “The Beauty & Ruin of Friends and Bodies”

Choreography: Nol Simonse with Christy Funsch

A Conversation with Sima Belmar

ML: I must admit that you piqued my interest by your description of the dance on Facebook: “Relational unison. Rising up from demi plié so so slowly. Reindeer.” So I convinced a friend to go with me Sunday night and was not disappointed – I laughed, I wondered, I breathed. Nol was Nol and Christy was Christy and together they were so very delightful. The ease of movement and elongated phrasing was satisfying to watch. I really felt invited into a conversation.

SB: I’m so glad! When Nol and Christy danced the same phrase together, they had this way of looking at each other and expressing different feelings about what they were doing that made me think of relational unison (nod to Bourriaud). I hadn’t seen Christy dance in well over a decade and I was absolutely captivated by her performance. So clear and strong and humble all at once, as if her Christyness were going along for the ride, her ego in retreat, looking in from some distance at the wonder of choreography.

ML: I saw Christy dance last November and was struck by her dancing. A year later, I am still captivated by how she moves. When Nol and Christy danced the same phrase I was struck by the “same but different” quality of their movements – even in sameness there is difference and in difference we can find sameness. I noticed this kind of interplay throughout the piece and appreciated the honesty that sat behind it: we are not all the same, but we can try to understand how our differences might allow for connection or even change. I really enjoyed when Nol tried to copy Christy’s heaving breathing pattern. He couldn’t quite do it right; Christy noticed with a careful gaze, touched him with her finger and Nol melted to ground with a yelp. It was funny and touching to watch the exchange of emotion.

SB: I felt a visceral response of understanding or recognition when, in a couple of instances, Nol touched Christy in ways that she seemed to dislike. A blush of distaste flickered across her face. I’ve never been great at contact in dance, not just contact improv, but any kind of contact. It makes me flinch. Christy’s flinches were choreographed in ways that resonated with me. She’s such a subtle performer, balancing Nol’s more blatant theatricality.

ML: Maybe that is what made this piece so relatable. Its choreography as a reflection of dancers as dancers. The night I went I am pretty sure the audience was mostly dancers and choreographers. What does that mean to the relate-ability of the piece? Would this piece be felt in the same way with an audience of non-dancers?

SB: I’m not sure. I’ve given up on worrying about whether a dance will be relatable to non-dancers. I go into performances with my dance nerd hat on every time. I’m looking very closely at the movement. I’m trying some of it out in my mind, feeling through the technical aspects and trying to understand why something abstract and small, the twitch of a finger, the low-flying sweep of radically extended leg, moves me so profoundly. Nol and Christy made me attend to their movements and to the craft of choreography so that even when I zoned out a bit, like when the brick-laying section went on longer than I could be present for, I was eager to return to their world. Every movement mattered, kinesthetic poetry.

ML: Sometimes I get a little caught up in the audience question – sometimes it matters and sometimes it doesn’t. Putting aside the audience questions (which is really more a larger question about the dance scene in the Bay Area), “The Beauty & Ruin of Friends and Bodies” was touching and funny. I realized that it had been a while since I laughed out loud while watching dance. I think we all need to laugh more these days.

Thanks for talking with me Sima!

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October 5th, “Marksman” at ODC Theater

Kate Weare Company

“Marksman” premiered at the Joyce Theater in November 2016 and features an original score by Curtis Robert Macdonald and set design by Clifford Ross. Its ideas began, however, in a 2015 piece titled “Unstruck.” As the title suggests, “Marksman” exhibited a meticulous focus and energy; the precision of movements reflected the skilled quality of a marksman. The dancers always hit their marks and their eyes kept steady gazes. Within this technical precision, the dancers respond and react to each other with simple gestures, group lifts, and articulate patterns. The organic nature of the movements seem to represent a social dynamic, yet the music and set seem to suggest a natural world that could be described as otherworldly, earthy, or watery. Where are they? It was fun to work on this question through out the 50 minute piece.

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In the program notes (and elsewhere), Weare explains that part of the impetus for “Marksman” was her own experience in giving birth: “But after giving birth I felt my willfulness transform. I understood, finally, that I am an instrument of nature and not in control of it.” 

This point, about willfulness, is key to how I understand “Marksman” as a giving way of willfulness to others. In a world that seems consumed by “likes” and “retweets,” are we losing sight of how we physically connect and respond to others (at work, on the bus, in lines)? How can dance remind us that we might need to do a little bit of “giving up” in order to be in community with others?

In Mind, Self, and Society, George Mead stated the following:

No hard-and-fast line can be drawn between our own selves and the selves of others, since out own selves exist and enter as such into our experience only in so far as the selves of others exist and enter as such into our experience also.”

Given hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, the terrorist bombing in Mogadishu and ongoing fires in Northern California, the lesson of willfulness in relation to others seems pertinent. We not only need each other, but also develop with each other. Sometimes that needing requires that we not only respond to others, but also be more open to where those responses might take us. Maybe we need a little less control and a little more attention to the visceral energies that pass between us while at work, on the bus, or in lines.  

September 23rd, “Moses(es)”

Choreography by Reggie Wilson/Fist and Heel Performance Group

As is often the case, I didn’t know much about the piece before sitting down to the show. The stage was wide open and littered with silver tinsel; a red suitcase sat among it.

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The title obviously placed the dance in the context Moses’s story. The title also hints that there is more than one Moses, more than one version of the story. At the beginning, Wilson enters the stage and smiles a the audience for a while. He almost seems to chuckle. He then proceeds to put all of the tinsel into the red suitcase (I was truly surprised that it all fit) and then rolls the luggage off stage. I’m still not sure what meant – a kind of labor? A clearing or cleansing of the space? Would Wilson smile at us again? These were not the last of my questions.

As the dance progressed, I became struck by the endurance of the dancing and the commitment of repetition within the choreography. They seemed to be working through a set of ideas or questions. It almost seemed as if there could be no “end” to the piece. The music (both taped and live) placed the Moses story within another context of African struggles and the African diaspora. These layers of context added to the depth of the piece. Yet, I wasn’t sure what that depth was. This question still lingered even after the talk with Wilson and the performers after the show.  The program suggests that the piece is “a powerful investigation of the nature of leadership – who leads? who follows? – in contemporary culture.”

Who was this piece for? The dancers? Wilson? Any audience member? I didn’t feel spoken to. I wonder what it might be like to have a talk before the show as part of the experience of watching.