BETWEEN: Jumatatu Poe, Salt
“finding my infinity by way of rigidity” (from Jumatatu’s NOTE in the program)
Coming in from the courtyard to the theater—sound is first: not a metronome exactly but a measured repetition. Jumatatu is between nudity and dressed, wrapping his hips in cellophane.
Six more spools of cellophane line the front of the stage. Will he wear them all?
The audience quiets but does not grow silent as he repeats his score. I wonder how decisions such as these get made collectively by the audience. What are the cues for beginning?
What different kinds of attention get directed towards the performer? How does the audience feel towards/with/around this young man, his brown skin and long natural hair.
The curators come onto the stage while Jumatatu continues to move, welcoming us, and after they sit down the lights change to blue. We have spent some time (with and between) beginning.
The lulling sounds of saran wrap, footfall, metronome.
Looking off to somewhere beyond the walls.
Guttural sounds emerge from his throat, gradually shifting to cooing, to baby talk.
Left to right, forward and back, stride, turn, hips, hands.
His mouth in slow motion shifting from O to toothy smile.
“I want to do a little (w)rap for you.”
Disordered phrases, cut-up/scramble: “I have been obsessed with——-for a long time.”
Backwards walk with arms bent around head in a pin-up pose, blackout.
THE NO LONGER: Paul Matteson, slow slip down
“Where others go on ahead, I stay in one place.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein (from Matteson’s program notes)
NOTE: My response to this piece is shaped by a lack of personal and historical context for the work of Matteson, as well as the work of Jennifer Nugent, who performed—their relationship to each other, to Bill T. Jones, etc. I was filled in by other attendees of the evening. This raises questions of what happens to the recent past, of the challenge for choreographers who have moved beyond the status of “emerging” to maintain both presence and relevance.
What happens when a choreographer leaves New York to teach Dance at an academic institution? Does time freeze? Is the choice to use all faculty and students from the 5-college Consortium in Western Mass a commentary on Matteson’s position—or purely practical?
In a festival concerned with questions of legibility and illegibility, this piece, a seven-person all-female ensemble (largely white, not-tall and thin) felt too legible, felt of the past. The piece was full of modern dance stereotypes, from rehearsal clothes to partner balancing, to very serious gazes for inexplicable reasons. I felt like I was watching a recital, a platform for demonstrating newly acquired skills. The live music, which could have added another level of sensory experience, felt somehow similarly flat and uninspiring.
Who are these performers behind their carefully set faces? What have they been told to imagine? What are we to imagine as we watch them execute their leaps and falls and regard each other blandly? Was their subjectivity unwelcomed or not available for them to access in the first place? Not all dancers make compelling performers after all.
It doesn’t feel good to me to dismiss this piece, not knowing much about its making. In the context of this evening, all of the other works were solos and self-made (sometimes in collaboration). I do know that I’m not the only one who felt somewhat baffled by the presence of this piece in the program.
AND (1): Bonnie Jones, We’ve
Bonnie lines up objects at the lip of the stage, members of the audience lean forward, twist to see, some stand briefly. A bowl with something in it? Scraping, rolling sounds.
She returns to the table to make adjustments to many knobs on a mixer. I’m aware of a ringing sound filling the theater which gradually narrows and concentrates into the space between my ears. It’s arrival is shocking—the internal space of my head a new theater that the artist has entered. I wonder if I am becoming entranced. My heartbeat quickens.
Whirl and disorientation, accretion.
Reading from a white sheet of paper: “We walked in a circle for several hours maybe months.”
Soundscape of street: speech and cars approach and fade away. The voices are speaking an Asian language that I cannot place, which I place next to my knowledge from the notes that Bonnie is Korean-American.
She opens a door, turns on a little light, uncovers the mirror, shadows, reflections. Clicks light switches, the house lights illumine us in our seats for a moment.
She is creating a new topography. “We can see ourselves as map legends.”
Stacking and stretching sonic transmissions.
AND (2): Alex Escalante / Melanie Maar
“a meeting of two beings from two separate pieces and choreographers” (from Melanie Maar’s program notes)
AKA a mashup of material from Melanie’s Spaces and Bones and Alex’s Venado (Deer Dance)
In addition to having seen Alex’s recent solo at Gina Gibney, on two occasions I’ve heard him speak about the genesis of Venado: first, in a talk-back session after his work-in-progress showing of the piece at BAX a couple of years ago and then again, last fall, as a performer in Xavier le Roy’s Retrospective at PS1. In Retrospective, he talked about his early experience of performing a ritual dance that was connected to indigenous culture in Mexico, and his consequent investigation of his relationship to that material. At BAX, Melanie Maar was in the audience when he alluded to having seen her work Spaces and Bones (performed at The Chocolate Factory in 2010), in which she performed a deer dance. Here is an excerpt from an interview that Melanie gave to Gia Kourlas in Time Out:
Does your deer dance refer to anything?
When I was doing the deer dance at Judson as a preparation for the piece, a Mexican choreographer named Isabel Nares came up to me and asked, “Did you study the Danza de Venado?” I said, “What is that?” and she said, “It’s the deer dance—they do it in the north of Mexico, only men, for religious purposes.” I looked it up on YouTube, and it made me feel so emotional because there are many similarities to my deer dance. I’m glad I didn’t see it before I made it and that only men perform it because a lot of the piece is about playing around with male and femaleness. I think Kenta and I are transforming a lot between male and female energy and that our roles are not so set. So to know that the deer dance is done by men in the north of Mexico gave me a big boost, and it also made me feel like there is something—an access to a movement potential that is not just what I have learned and what I’ve been exposed to.
I never got to see Melanie’s Spaces and Bones, but there is something both reparative and generative for me in the pairing and subsequent transformation of their works I find it to be a beautiful gesture that these two very different artists have chosen to share the stage, and to be open to new signals and significations trafficking between them.
The piece opens to Melanie’s bent figure holding a set of antlers in each hand, her arms extended, her body strong and marble-white in the bright light. Wind sounds. Behind her, a moon-shaped circle is perfectly centered on the wall, her shadow larger-than-life at its center. She looks down or away as she holds herself still, transitioning into a new pose, clacking the antlers together sharply, lifting a heel, flicking her calf.
Alex enters from stage left, looking into the audience and nodding in recognition repeatedly, his arm extended. He is all flow where she is fixed. He has no shadow. He is on all fours, slamming first one fist and then the other in to the floor.
The light becomes more unfocused and Melanie’s shadow less defined, more wavery. Alex’s antlers are his hands growing out of his forehead. They are in stillness, unseeing of each other.
He is on his back, one hand on his stomach, which rises up and down up and down, slowly.
She crouches down, bringing the antlers on top of her head, raises her eyes and steadily travels her gaze across us. The lights cut out.
THE STILL TO COME: Dana Michel, valley valley
A tent, a coffeepot, a teapot, a microphone on stage. Elaborate set-up. Props and propping up. Glimpses of the body, snippets of speech, objects out of their context.
Dana rolls onto the stage from the back of the theater—she’s wearing white stockings, a semi-buttoned white shirt, black oversized shoes, a white piece of fabric around her hair, and as she rolls, she leaves a trail of white bread behind her.
Sounds of water, a running bath. She drags herself with difficulty over the coffeepot and on sits precariously top of it, holding a microphone limply, muttering. She looks like she’s the sole survivor of a shipwreck. She looks dead tired, her eyes shift all around the floor and don’t land anywhere.
Fragments of speech seem to drop out of a fully constructed inner world:
“I don’t like it—“
“You gotta use gloves”
“Peel it on the train”
“I’m not gonna hurt you”
She rummages around in the tent where we can’t see. Brings out more. White lights, which she turns on one at a time. Red plastic shot cups, which she arranges on the floor. She sets out and then stacks cans of soda, before putting them to bed, drawing them in with a white mitt on her hand, saying: “Come on, shhh.” Cereal is poured, a bag of onions is thankfully left intact. She stands up, leaving her property/refuse scattered across the floor, walks through the door and slams it behind her—more than just a gesture, a reverberation passes through us.
I came across this interview with Marin Sander-Holzman for American Realness where Dana spoke about her 2014 performance Yellow Towel, a work that reckoned with black cultural stereotypes. Addressing ways of communicating with the audience other than through direct eye contact, she asked: “Is there not another way to connect with the people that I’m sharing this work with? Can I not speak to them with my elbow? Can I not look at them with my nipple?”
Throughout the performance I sat on the rim of discomfort and curiosity, aware of something abject being enacted, something private being displayed and inquired into, a collection of codes forming meaning as they came into contact with their environment. The adoption of a persona, or range of personas, requires a level of concentration that creates a force field around it. In that same interview, Dana said: “I wanted to live something. In order to just live it and not show it, I needed to remove the gaze.”
– Jaime Shearn Coan