Theresa Madaus on DaNCEBUMS’ “Wow”

Wow Dancebums

DaNCEBUMS’ celebratory Mother’s Day show, a collaboration with musical group 6 Families simply titled Wow, opened on the stage of the Bryant Lake Bowl adorned with a few partial frames (mimicking the WOW graphics of their promo), a handful of small blue fake flowers in pots, and the 4-person band crammed into one corner of the small stage.

Over the course of the first song, the 5 members of DaNCEBUMS flooded the stage in an energetic flow of leaping, shimmying bodies. The vocabulary ranged from unabashed virtuosic ballet moves to the equally unabashed virtuosity of shoulder shimmies and leaps ending on the floor, fearless of impact or knees, rolling into the next moment. Filled with exuberance and precision by turns (and sometimes simultaneously), it was almost too much for the tiny space. And yet the small dimensions of the BLB totally flattered the dance. Condensed and framed, the energy could not be contained and overwhelmed with more impact than it could have in a larger space. When all five dancers were present (as well as the 4 musicians, who never strayed from their corner), there was an element of risk, of higher stakes of dancers sending their bodies flying through space in such close quarters. The tightness increased the viscerality that was already oozing from their bodies, sweat and effort propelling them in joyful bounds and springy folds into the floor. The immediacy and aliveness was supported by the live music- dance and sound vibrated together in my body.

We were lead from the quiet “preluding an impossible task with soft feet” through several sections (including the aforementioned “impossible task”) back into “the edge on my memory,” in which an earlier song was played backwards while the dance was also replayed backwards. This methodical but seamless rewind was the perfect energetic shift to draw us back down- to complete the somatic cycle of rising energy, adrenaline and return to harmony in rest.

DaNCEBUMS’ aesthetic often speaks to me of 80’s nostalgia. It was not just their program, which combined vivid flower photographs with cartoonish ink drawings of more flowers and inexplicable pizza slices as well as outer space/glitter fusion and “a bonus poster – WOW!” (emphasis theirs). There is something about their earnestness and dedication to having fun that feels like a throwback. Slightly tongue in cheek, but wholeheartedly owning and loving it. Referential without irony. (Perhaps post-ironic?) This manifested in their vocabulary choices- arabesques and ballet woven side-by-side with shimmies, jazz leaps and floor poses, neither language commenting on the other, but coexisting harmoniously- and in their performativity- 100% physical commitment with casual, concentrating, but comfortable faces. Aware, but again, without cheeky commentary.

There was a pervasive sense that they were just having fun, and that just having fun might be enough. What can I say? They were convincing. I sat back and let the dance wash over me, my senses simply enjoying the high impact, the duets and trios that grew and shrank with subtle exits, the exquisite line of a pointed toe, the delight of unison, the explosive leaps, the occasional coy smile and the sheer effort.

I don’t believe that irony is dead, but I do feel DaNCEBUMS relationship to irony is very different from my own; I felt a generational gap. (And I don’t just mean the gap that I keenly felt when watching the dancers throw themselves into the air and land on their knees. I simultaneously admired the grace and boldness and cringed at every landing. My body wanted to follow suit and my knees objected vehemently.) There is an underlying attitude that feels specific to the age and identity of these makers. Their performative presence, or perhaps their approach to the dance, or maybe both, gave me a sense that they care a lot, but also, they don’t have to care that much. They have nothing to prove. Lots to give, but just enough internal mystery and self-sufficiency that they don’t have to try too hard. (Perhaps all the trying is used up in the execution of the dance itself- full physical commitment and a trust that the oblique meaning can remain somewhat internal.) Despite the immense effort of the dance, I was struck by a certain casual earnestness, a take-me-as-I-am, this-is-exactly-what-it-is-and-that-is-enough-ness. I suspect that this is also a product of their 5-person collaboration among friends, but it also feels like a politic of their era and approach.

I am intrigued by contradictions- the mix of super polish and messy not-a-care attitude that I saw in Wow. Perhaps this is part of the hybrid nostalgia post-ironic aesthetic. The programs stood out for its high production- on glossy paper, the little booklet folded out into the aforementioned poster, which featured a pristine naturescape, torn and seamlessly but evidently put back together. The rollicking splashy patterns with cartoon scrawls spoke to a value system that also played out in costumes and visual choices. The casual juxtaposition of sleek, balletic poses, denim cutoff shorts, hairy legs and slicked back buns did not seem to be a comment on anything, but rather an underlying dismissal of caring, a take-me as I am. Their movement was specific, choreographed, clean, but robust enough to carry the overwhelming momentum of energy. This was not high gloss and glam, but crafted experience that busted the seams with its exuberance.

by Theresa Madaus

DaNCEBUMS + 6 Families


Saturday and Sunday, May 7 and 8, 2016

Bryant Lake Bowl




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