Making Intentions Clear
When attending a dance performance, it’s wise to be receptive. If the dance asks one to appreciate movement’s interaction with space or to feel the impact of intense physicality, a viewer can watch from a more visual point of view. If the work asks one to follow a series of events or ponder a question, a more analytical perspective is fitting. One may pay more attention to rhythm and sound if the movement seems to be heavily linked with musicality. And when the choreography seems nonsensical, submitting to the ambiguity can be fun. Choreographers may choose to work with these ideas or explore dynamics between more than one of the ideas presented here, but ultimately, it is their responsibility to present a clear intention. Both clear and not so clear intentions were on display at Danspace Project in May for a Shares evening featuring performances by Osmani Tellez and Juliette Mapp.
Tellez’s Out is a series of improvisational scores. Tellez and dancers—Astrud Angarita, Sigal Bergman, and Rebecca Serrell—share a spastic, nervous quality as they run around St. Mark’s Church, avoiding near collisions until they drop in exhaustion to the floor. Clad in bright turquoise, yellow, green, and purple costumes designed by Angarita, each dancer has a lovely, fearless quality, which makes these daring misses all too close for the comfort of onlookers.
Throughout a patterned duet between Angarita and Bergman, improvised movement meets in a quick exhale as each dancer rolls her shoulders toward the floor. Then in a 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1 pattern, they move methodically, assigning one leap or gesture for every count, finding a concentrated calm in contrast to the piece’s overriding feeling of angst. Serrell recites dialogue that is meant to be understood, though I was unable to hear her clearly. Perhaps in those words lies the reason for the performers’ frantic states, but, ultimately, the text and choreography didn’t reveal any clues.
Out offered no point of entry for the audience. Rather, it was merely a collage of solos, duets, and quartets and hovered in a gray area between abstraction and message. While I was so willing to go along with the fine performances of Tellez and the other dancers, I had nothing to follow.
Sharing the evening with Tellez, Juliette Mapp makes her intentions very clear not only through her latest work’s title, one: an anti-war dance, but also through her deliberate choreography. One begins with one dancer who unfolds her chair, counting “1, 2, 3…” as she rubs her thigh each time. Two dancers join her, then four, then eight, until the stage buzzes with the counting of over 41 dancers. Some stop their counting as they trace the crowns of their heads, link wrists, and stare at the audience in unison. When they walk around their chairs and cover the mouths of several counters, the droning buzz of counting is muffled, but only for a moment. Dancers posing as audience members walk on stage and exchange seats with the performers. “Neun tausend fünfhundert,” a girl behind me counted in German.
Evoking sorrow and helplessness, Mapp enters, performing a minimal solo that meanders through the chairs. The piece ends when she covers the mouth of the last remaining counter (who was the first) as she reaches 100,000. The dancer runs to join the rest, who are clumped at the back of the stage, arms stretched high. Mapp takes her place in the chair and begins to count, “1, 2, 3…”
While there is no direct reference to conflict in Mapp’s piece, the dronelike monotony of the counting creates a hostile buildup. The dancers’ blank faces, lack of resistance to a pointless pattern of counting (perhaps a reference to war casualties) leaves an unnerving impression.