Emma Barber on GIRLYWOOD

crowd control

With an unseen woman singing a powerful tune, two dancers (Kenna Cottman and Deja Stowers) perform what could maybe be called contemporary African dance. They dance in separate parts of the stage, sometimes overlapping movement, sometimes connecting in phrases and eye contact. The lights dim so low that the dancers are barely visible, we are left to strain our eyes or use our memory to imagine what movements they are still doing. A band (Gospel Machine) sets up in the center of the stage, and the first songs lyrics narrate a woman’s longing for a man, the second song is “Feeling Good”. The dancers jam along the periphery of the band until their set is finished.

In the program, crowd control asks these questions:

Are we destroying these dances by putting them on display?

Am I ruining my style by dancing in the studio mirror?

Does that movement feel as good as it looks, and are you doing it right?

Not reading these questions until after the performance, my viewing was informed by the work I know Kenna is committed to investigating and advocating (racial equality, oral history, and West African traditions in a contemporary context), and the title: crowd control. From these two things I expected the piece to be challenging the relationship of spectator and performer and forefronting the language of movement. Alas, perhaps controlling the crowd isn’t necessary if the crowd is already conditioned to sit, watch, and be silent in a theater. I imagine the possibilities of a reverse-control – instead of quieting down it is unleashing, instead of sitting it is empathizing in movement, instead of watching it is experiencing – and wonder how this performance would be different if it operated in this context.

Struggling to watch the dancers move on an almost-blackout stage, I wondered whether or not I was supposed to see it. And what great questions for an art-maker to ponder – why is it important that someone see it? – which is similar to crowd control’s first question – what happens to the dance when it is viewed? These are my thoughts post-viewing, but during the piece I saw it as a matter of importance. If the dance is in the dark, is it telling me that it is not important to see it? Why is dance on the periphery and in service to the band? Dance is often marginalized in relation to other art forms, in validity to other occupations, in economic opportunities. If we spend hours and stress and money on creating dances that tell it’s audience that it is not important if they are there or not, what is the point in doing it? Why is the audience important? Because they paid an entrance fee that will or will not reimburse the artists for all they have done to produce the show? This is the cycle fueled by capitalism that says it is not sustainable to spend time and effort on something that will not provide a gain for yourself. Let’s follow it or not – get money for the labor we have done or make it all for free or whatever but let’s also engage the question “why?”

Kenna Cottman

crowd control

GIRLYWOOD

Intermedia Arts

October 9th-11th, 2014

Written by Emma Barber

Jousting

How do behaviors and identities co-exist or fight within one body? A body that is told it must do something a certain way to be able to call itself a certain thing. April Sellers and Mary Ann Wall (choreographers) are investigating the plethora of ways to engage in feminism. Blunt questions are asked to the audience (“can I suck dick and be a feminist?”) from two women (April Sellers and Susan Scalf) of differing sexual preferences, highlighting their desires and questioning if they can still count as a feminist. These questions are not meant to be answered here or now, they float in the air as we watch their bodies deconstruct sexualized movements, blow an authoritative whistle at inappropriate gestures, and stand together in an effort to show us there is no singular way to approach the identity of feminist.

Movement in this piece is used as a way to reveal to us the method of meaning-making in reverse action – deconstructing what we had already assigned meaning to in hopes of seeing other possibilities. Success in this dance comes when an object is revealed as a multi-symbol, when meaning shifts and we catch ourselves off-guard in the face of predictability.

Many times the rhythm of the piece goes like this: difficult question, pause, change energy and perform abstract dance phrase. Dance is an ocular filler or a distraction that lets us evade the difficult questions just asked. Butted up against spoken text, it becomes evidently clear that dance is the baby sister, unable to be understood on it’s own without help from Brother English. Similar to crowd control, dance has belittled itself, stumbled at its speech, made itself immemorable in the face of another form of communication. It’s true – dance does not talk like music, dance does not talk like how I am writing this review, dance doesn’t talk like a bus stop, dance doesn’t talk like your grandmother. Dance is a different language and has a different set of attributes, it can be experienced and understood in a way that does not rely on intellectual thought-making. So how does the game change when you have both in the boxing ring? They are competing for our attention, each one believes it can teach us something different (and they can) but we have already given the advantage to the spoken language, it will win because we already understand it. How do we, viewer and maker, give dance a chance?

April Sellers and Mary Ann Wall

Jousting

GIRLYWOOD

Intermedia Arts

October 9th-11th, 2014

Written by Emma Barber

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