Re-Viewed by filmmaker and writer:
One of the things I most enjoy about attending the WIP is the critical response session following each performance. It’s amazing what you can learn, not just from listening to an exchange between an artist and a well-informed audience member, but also the insights provided by those from the curious and engaged people not so familiar with dance.
The March WIP opened with Durga Suryvadevara’s solo performance in the Bharathnatyam Indian dance style. The short piece, titled “Swami,” was performed to prerecord music, augmented with the sounds from her ghungross ankle bells. Prompted by a question from the audience, we learned from Durga the names of those bells in several of the languages of India.
This opened the door for a wonderful interlude of cultural
exchange, with people asking about the relevance of costumes and colors and movements. Durga explained that the specific colors of her blue, red, and gold costume did not have any specific meaning. But many of her gestures and facial expressions did. They were used to help convey the narrative of her performance which, in keeping with the style, told an ancient story from Indian mythology. And even though the Bharathnatyam tradition imposes a formal choreographic interpretation of the stories, the dancer has a fair amount of latitude in adding her own embellishments through the nuances of hand movements and facial expressions.
The second performance of the night was provided by Christina Ketchum. She had choreographed a piece with some of her young students from the Ballet Arts School. “Proof of Life,” featured four dancers, who paired off, occasionally and fluidly changing partners.
The dance had been set to the song “Putting the Dog to Sleep” by The Antlers. And following the performance an audience member was curious if the lyrics of the song, “Prove to me / I’m not gonna die alone,” meant that the final movements of the dance represented death. Christina answered, “yes and no.” The overriding theme clearly dealt with the uncertainty of the longevity of relationships. But even if they do last, she added, “someone’s gotta die first. Let’s be honest.”
Contortionist Gabriela Simon closed out the evening with a performance to music. She began on the ground in low light, slowly stretching and folding her body. An element of struggle pervaded the slow, deliberate exertion, never without grace, as she twisted, rose, and slumped back down.
When she had finished, the audience, once prompted to share their impressions, used phrases such as: “mesmerizing,” “every ounce of your being squeezed into your poses,” “emotions in your fingers,” “it felt so raw, and I really liked that.”
One of the questions Gabriela asked of the audience concerned the music. Most who responded felt that the slow, somber toned matched well the movements on stage. However, a couple of people admitted that because the movement piece had the same title as the song (“I’m a Fighfighter”), they found themselves looking for a narrative component which they eventually realized was not intended. Gabriela seemed to take note of that.
These are little moments I enjoy. The opportunity to watch the performer learn something about the presentation which had gone unnoticed. Often one can be so close to the work, that something small but important goes unnoticed until it is brought before an audience.
Perhaps you’ll see the work later, more realized and polished. And perhaps you’ll notice a modification or an addition which had been suggested by the audience. I know I’m not the only one who finds satisfaction in being part of someone else’s creative process. The WIP creates a wonderful space for information to move not just from the stage to the audiences, but also back to the artist. It’s a singular feeling to be present when this happens.