Photo by Bill Cameron, courtesy of walkerart.org
I watched DaNCEBUMS “One-Move-Dance” unfold with the title keenly in my mind. A single dancer began center stage with the eponymous move, a weight-shift from leg-to-leg with alternating relaxing knees and toe-touch- a kind of boppy party-dance move. As the solo dancer was joined by others, filtering in first from the sides of the stage to form different configurations, and then down the aisles from behind the audience, all moving in synchronized leg-bop, I had plenty of time to consider what exactly this “one move” was.
The conceit seemed clear- create a dance using just one move, though that one move manifested in a variety of different bodies and compositions. If any move is repeated, can it still be one move? The uniqueness of human beings means there will be as many moves as there are bodies. And the variation of human effort – we can call it error, or perhaps innovation- necessarily creates as many more moves as there are repetitions. This dance seemed less occupied with the necessary variants of repetition or individual and more with how compositional variations could maintain interest.
Set to fun pop music (Time Will Tell, by Blood Orange), with what I read as a mostly white, mostly young-adult cast clad in a range of pedestrian wear, “One-Move-Dance” felt like a bunch of hipsters had taken over an 80s dance movie. A few notable exceptions of non-white dancers, a child, and a person inexplicably dressed in what appeared to be English riding clothes underscored my feeling of “projected everyman” and the splashy inclusivity of the aforementioned movies. All celebration and good times, the piece suggested unity of variety, a sense of “we’re all one/we’re all in this together.” In this piece, as in the movies, dance serves as a way of rallying community, of activating bodies in joy together. This format supported subtle variations of individuals coming together to form a cohesive whole, with community enjoyment as the focus, but did not leave much space to explore the movement variations as meaningful in and of themselves, or to question who and what this group of people was.
DaNCEBUMS’ program notes state that they “invited [their] close friends, collaborators, moms, coworkers, and crushes to dance with [them],” which feeds the sense of friendly togetherness and somewhat relieves my questions of casting. This is their community. (This is a larger conversation, however, that deserves deeper exploration. As a fellow white choreographer in a community rife with inequity, I am both deeply curious and deeply implicated in this question of what happens when white choreographers employ tactics that suggest “diversity,” and of course the similar catch-22s of working with all-white or all-POC casts. I did not get the sense that DaNCEBUMS was investigating this at the heart of One-Move Dance, but it was a question that came up for me.)
Their program notes also state that this dance “began as a study of how to enjoy the simplicity of performing a single move.” And while the enjoyment is clear- this piece was an apt celebratory finish- kind of high-energy finale to the evening- I wonder again about “the simplicity of performing a single move.” The trajectory of the dance was a crescendo, moving from individual to mass group, the attention moving from the repeated single move of that individual to the compositional patterns of the group. In the last third of the piece, arm gestures were distinctly added to the “one move” and at some point the move was discarded entirely for group rushes towards and away from the front of the stage before a dance party ensued. It seems the answer to “how to enjoy performing a single move” is to expand outwards from the move, to multiply it, and to focus on composition of mass replication before dissolving the move completely. While this made for a light-hearted and enjoyable piece, I wonder about other answers to this proposition. I crave an exploration that adheres more rigorously to the idea of “one move.” I am thinking of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Fase, which challenges and mesmerizes the audience with its limited vocabulary repetition. I wonder what kind of development might have happened if the one move were more deeply explored on each body- it we had been given the time to notice or the space to attend to the variation of each body, of each repetition. It would require a very different pace and I imagine it might produce a very different atmosphere, less easy to consume. (And this, of course, opens a whole other question about the perceived divides between dance that is easy to watch (considered accessible, low-brow) and dance that demands a different kind of attention (considered difficult, high-brow). Though it often devolves into this false dichotomy, I do think it is worth asking what work a dance is doing, and how it is doing it. )
I do not mean to belittle the perceived aim of this piece- to showcase a joyful community. I participate in a practice called “Don’t You Feel It Too?” which uses dance to access joy, among other things. Through this practice I have learned to value the pursuit of dancing joy as a powerful motivation in and of itself. But my experience also is predicated on participation, and perhaps this is why I question if there is a deeper way of exploring and sharing this idea. The fact that I feel the word “showcase” is appropriate points to the gap for me. I wonder how this dance could be equally enjoyable while digging more deeply into its work, whether that work is rigorous development of one move or investigation of community.
I did see One-Move-Dance doing work- through an equal treatment of bodies and focus, it de-hierarchalized dancers for me and achieved a oneness of performativity. As I write, I realize that the title, which at first glance was so clearly about the conceit of a one-move dance, is actually more complicated by the addition of the second hyphen. While that reading still stands, it also suggests the oneness of the group, moving together as a whole, gathering a community together, traveling from an individual to a movement to a complete dance.
by Theresa Madaus
Choreographer’s Evening, Walker Art Center
November 28, 2015