Zellerbach Hall

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.

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2nd Show of 2017 – Slow to Write

Lucinda Childs, “Available Light,” February 3rd.

This post is very, post.

It’s been a busy February. Since seeing “Available Light,” I’ve also been to a play, the ballet, and a flamenco performance piece. So there is more writing to come.

There are several aspects of “Available Light” by Lucinda Childs worth noting and worth reflecting on, but part of what I think makes this one writable for me is how much I enjoyed the planned and unplanned conversations that unfolded throughout the evening. As many of my previous posts reveal, my reflections often are part of conversations that still linger and those I have yet to have. My response to “Available Light” is no different; it is imbued by conversations I’ve had since seeing the show on February 4th. Here are a few brief reflections:

  • There is beauty in repetition, which compels a different kind of focus that directs attention to the cracks and gaps between movements and dancers.
  • The music composed for the piece sounded of waves and other earthly utterings.
  • The piece held together; it seemed like a conversation of movement, sound, and light.
  • I didn’t understand the title until I heard Childs and John Adams, the composer, talking after the performance.

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While I enjoyed the performance I still left the show wondering why bring this piece back. It’s rarely been seen since 1983. It’s not as though Available Light is a timeless piece; its aesthetic age is evident. And as Childs made clear, the dance apolitical and without “a message.” What does Available Light matter to now? Is it’s beauty enough of an answer?

January 22nd, “Rice”

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan

I got a slow start this year.

2016 started with words about dance.  I attended two discussions as a part of the Fresh Festival (“Phenomenology & Feminisms, or Ladies Night with Fauxnique Monique Jenkinson” and “Dance Discourse Project #21: Dreaming the Future Landscape”).  I’m not sure what I expected out of these events.  I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to “do” as an audience member/participant, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to take home with me.  Maybe I chose the wrong talks (unfortunately, I didn’t have much choice in my schedule).  Maybe the they needed better facilitators.  Maybe I needed to participate more.

Now, for the dancing – Cloud Gate Dance Theatre. I bought this ticket last Fall, and it was a little weird to have this on my calendar for so long.  I am usually not thinking that far in advance.

CalPerformance program.

If I could only choose one word to describe “Rice,” it would be “satisfying.” Beautiful dancing, rhythm, video, light, sound – all of it was satisfying.

As I learned from the program notes, the choreographer, Lin Hwai-min, took his dancers to join farmers harvesting rice in the field.  It tells “the story of the land while contemplating the devastation of Earth.”  I don’t know how, but this showed up in the dance. I could sense it.  Perhaps what I found so satisfying had something to with how these dancers embodied soil, wind, pollen, sunlight, grain, fire, and water via the experiences of death and rebirth, devastation and resurrection.  The program notes also suggest that the dance “enacts a human drama parallel to the life cycle of rice.”  But is this all?  As I pressed start on my rice cooker today, I began to reflect back on the performance as something more than just a satisfying experience.  What might it mean to be watching laboring dancers embodying the human and non-human labor of rice production?  Is this aspect of labor eclipsed by the beauty of moving bodies and images?  If so, why?

It’s often so easy to sit in the audience and be satisfied with the beauty of a dance.  But dance doesn’t only exist in the theater or in program notes.  Dances connect to experiences, identities, communities, ideologies, questions, and more.  They ask us to think differently, consider alternative worlds, explore new concepts, and imagine other ways of being.  Yet, the theater can isolate the experience of watching and even detach us from those connections.  Yes, watching “Rice” was satisfying, but its labor gives me pause and in that pause I am confronted by multiple kinds labor and laboring that are visible as well as invisible.