Looking back on a life can lead in multiple directions. Self-reflection, for many, leads to the doors of others, or in the case of Risa Jaroslow, the mailboxes. This premise inspired the creation of Sixty, a show drafted on the eve of Jaroslow’s sixtieth birthday and premiered at Danspace in November. The collaboration began when the choreographer sent sixty letters to people “who have been important to [her] in different ways.” She received sixty responses, and chose nine to feature in her one-hour, or sixty minute, length work.
The performance begins with an explosive and acrobatic bang. Lights up on the core group of dancers, each hurling their bodies onto the stage, linearly across, from left to right. The moment the dancers transition from flight to free-fall is a poetic fraction of a second. They are seen suspended in air, stomachs parallel to the floor, faces towards the house. Eye contact with the audience serves to intensify the fall. They each hit the floor, one after another, with a loud thud. Yet, it is oddly graceful. The effect is shocking; viewers find themselves confronted by the sheer power of gravity and its constant pull, but they also find themselves confronted with the beauty of resistance against inevitable forces.
Immediately following the high-energy opener, a smooth transition leads into a mellow piece, featuring Jaroslow in a duet. She and another woman are seen calmly reading books. As the two women read, they are entangled in one another, limbs become intertwined, symbolizing the way in which readers become entangled in a storyline. This section is echoed later in the work, when four couples arrive on stage, each carrying books, and effectively perform a schoolgirl doo-wop. These performers’ young faces and naïve, swooning dance movements contrast sharply with the more seasoned Jaroslow’s initial floor-centered, grounded, and mature duet. The change in tone is accentuated by the costume differences: the younger women are dressed in knee-length flirty skirts, reminiscent of 1950s teenage-girl attire, while Jaroslow and partner remain in their simple cropped pants and loose fitting tanks.
Notably, throughout the evening, silence and music are alternated. The absence of music is at first startling; the dancer’s breath becomes magnified. There are even interesting choices made with the selection of breathing patterns—sometimes it is exaggerated and exhausted, in another section it becomes hyper, almost animalistic.
This animalistic theme comes into play again when the performers are seen buzzing around the stage wearing backpacks with wings attached; the vignette ends with the dramatic death of one of the flies, flinching feeler and all. The section is playful, and ties in beautifully with the silly tone of the 1950s teenager section. Quirky breaks like these are refreshing and honest; the show refuses to take itself too seriously.
Towards the end of the evening, a splendid ensemble piece brings the entire cast on stage. Bodies amassed in groups of four add a certain level of grandeur to this culminating and exalting dance, accompanied by dramatic piano music. This section becomes almost religious; the movement is subtle, the interaction intense, and the eye contact between performers moving. There is an acute sense of acknowledging one’s neighbors, which highlights the piece’s emphasis on community.
Jaroslow’s Sixty celebrates relationships. It celebrates love and life. And it acknowledges from experience that a life does not belong to one person alone.
Simone Larson is an Evanstonian living in Brooklyn.