Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Where You Find It

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

Where You Find It

Article excerpt

AROUND HERE, SUMMER IS THE TIME WHEN, contrary to everything else, dance goes dormant. In Boston, the defunding of Summer Stages Dance by its principal sponsor, Concord Academy, after fifteen invigorating seasons, curtailed what's given us a dependable access to new work. Not that local dancers aren't experimenting, but mostly they stay off the cutting edge. Last summer's supply of noteworthy imports didn't come in neat, hour-long packages. Choreographers were exploring new forms and new media, sometimes ignoring the theater as a performing space altogether. Summer Stages co-directors Richard Colton and Amy Spencer managed to hold onto their relationship with the Institute of Contemporary Art and offered a one-week residency for a group of 21 auditioned Boston dancers with choreographer Reggie Wilson and three members of his Brooklyn-based Fist and Heel Performance Group. The participants worked daily at the ICA and gave an informal showing on the last day.

The workshop participants learned phrases from Wilson's dense company piece Moses(es), which will be performed in Boston for the first time this winter. I attended one of the workshop sessions, and, three days later, the climactic Sunday afternoon showing. As basic material Wilson taught some of the phrases from Moses(es). The dancers were encouraged to inhabit the phrases in their own ways. Improvisation by building on a given action or gesture has been a staple of modern dance choreography for a hundred years. Wilson's work implants African, American, and Caribbean movement seeds to make new fusions that keep their original resonance. For the final showing, a preset group of phrases had been tweaked and shaped to create a more composed if not theatrical sequence, with the title On Moses(es) a local investigation. As Wilson told the audience at the showing, we were seeing "something that might resemble a piece."

To begin, the dancers lined up on the side of the ICA's performing space, with the theater's two glass walls screened to take the glare off the spectacular view of Boston Harbor. As in a dance class, the dancers began crossing on a diagonal, one at a time. The initial phrase divided the body into upper and lower halves. With small foot-to-foot stepping that sometimes became larger, deeper strides, they pumped their arms chest high in an intricate pattern of rotating wrists and pistonlike elbows. The symmetricality and the pulled-back shoulders reminded me of some West African traditional dances I've seen. Each dancer took the phrase slightly differently: some moved small and close to the body, some looked intense, some showed little perceptible accenting, some incorporated a rhythmic bounce. The remarkable thing about this was the music, a recording by Meredith Monk-"Madwoman's Vision" from her extraordinary 1988 film Book of Days. One of Monk's syllabic chants with an almost accent-free organ and cello accompaniment, "Madwoman's Vision" evokes a conversation among characters and animals, a narrative in song. But the dancers made no literal response to the crowded scene suggested by Monk's many-colored vocalizing-or to any of the four highly diverse selections that followed. With only a few pauses, more or less coinciding with the musical changes, the dancers kept going, sometimes incorporating whatever rhythmic beat the music was offering at the moment, sometimes ignoring it.

Gradually, dancers began crossing the space two or more at a time. When they'd all completed the diagonal, they formed another lineup and began a series of solos, shadowed intermittently by the three Fist and Heel dancers, Yeman Brown, Clement Mensah, and Anna Schon. Each dancer had a different interpretation of a phrase. After the first half-dozen or so, the rest of the group swarmed out into the space and performed their variations simultaneously. When the last soloist had finished, the rest of the group walked out and assembled into pairs. Facing the audience, they began a dance that seemed like a unison couple-chorus, but the unanimity, and the couples, splintered into a counterpoint of approximate timing. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.