Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I Am SO Much Better at Watching Dance Than I Was 15 Years Ago . . .

This was a major thought coursing through my brain after I attended the CandyBox Festival put on by ARENA dances. In it's second year, this is Matthew Janczewski's way of supporting creation in the Twin Cities dance community: by making space for artists at several points in their careers to present without as much worry about production details. As someone with her own such program AND with the fortune of, for the first time, receiving a commission/ presentation that allows me the same benefit (the Right Here Showcase 2018), I know how impactful this can be. Anyway.

What I came here to say is that it occurred to me, after seeing Carl Flink/ Black Label Movement's "This Bleeding Heart" for the first time since 2004 or 2005 (can't remember which school year the piece was set on University Dance Theatre), that I am MUCH better at watching dance than I was 15 years ago when I began my undergrad dance degree at the University of Minnesota. I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to see a work reset from that period of time in my life when I was just discovering how much dance could be. At the time, the piece was just REALLY AMAZING to watch, with movement vocabulary I had never seen a dancer perform.

This past Saturday night, it's messaging hit me more clearly. The title became political. The content was in stride, with a "personal as political" feeling running alongside the dancers as the bent and twisted and flew and caught and crumpled. I caught gestures I hadn't seen the last time many years ago, like the dancers hands meeting back to back and poking their own hearts. It was intriguing how much the music stuck with me, but how little of the physicality specifics I remembered. I had practically all of the details of all of the pieces of the music memorized, and it moved me in really deep ways to hear it all in sequence again in concert with the movement: it brought back feelings of my world being opened up in school, of camaraderie with the folks I danced with day in and day out, discovering together the possibilities that artistically-crafted movement could bring. These feelings hit me in the gut on Saturday.

Back to what I remembered from the last time. I had forgotten about the focus light coming in at the beginning, but remembered very quickly when I saw it how much that imagery had impacted me when I first saw it, and was moved by how much it did again. I cannot quite put my finger on why, or how I feel it may relate to the conceptual ideas I was able to take away this time, but it moved me. Perhaps it has to do with finger-pointing? Isolation of incidents? Whatever it may be/ for me, it was and is impactful.

I had a clear memory of the groupings of people and movement on the ground that the light focused on and the diagonal cannons, but didn't remember much about the split outs of complex partnering. Those moments were really interesting and were highlights for me this time around. I contextualized them as political dialogues this time around, something that never would have happened without the light-bulb regarding the title turning on.

My strong feeling about "being better at watching dance" was also directed by my experience of watching Taja Will's work "Gospels of Oblivion: To the End of the World" that night. I can clearly imagine my 18 year old self watching a work like that and thinking "What the hell is going on?" Hell, I see that look (and hear such sentiments) from the 18 and 19 year olds that take my Dance Appreciation class at Winona. It was pretty impactful to recognize my growth in how I watch performance when taking in this piece. I've of course recognized this idea BEFORE, but it was particularly poignant this time around, given it was happening in concert with seeing a work I hadn't seen since I was that age.

I took so much from the moments Taja created in the work, and had less need than my 18 year old self to find a "sensical" way to string them all together for myself. I've gotten better at recognizing that the impactful moments will move with me past the evening I see something, stringing THEMSELVES together however they need to. Perhaps this is also on my mind as of late, having been prepping program notes significantly less dense than I may have for my Right Here piece. Of those moments, I was very impacted by the tin-can call and it's absurdity, how that absurdity carried into the karaoke moment (and my realization that original music was written for this work). The performers moved so fluidly between modes of expression in this piece, creating well-rounded "characters" of sorts who were equal parts specific and anonymous. I felt sad for the loss of their lives at the end in both personal and general ways.

I also felt the glitz. Their sequins and disco ball were so absurd in the suggested setting that I gathered a sense of both obliviousness and knowledge but lack of shits given surrounding the demise of the performer's world. Did they not know, not care or both? Were there contained senses of care and responsibility that these people only let come out in times of vulnerability, and how is this a parable for the ways many of us approach our natural resources and place within a larger world? Sequins are fun, beautiful and disturbing all at once.

Feeling a sense of grounded gratitude for taking more away from dance each year I continue to swim around in it's glory. I'm grateful to Matthew, Carl, Taja and all the other artists on CandyBox for making and sharing!