And then we awoke. As from one of Regina Nejman’s friend’s vivid dreams, the ones she had after she was abandonée after a lifelong relationship. The ones she related to Regina, her friend the dancer. The ones that Regina and her company would conjure out, out of mind, out of memory, would break the spell of heartbreak through the curative of dance. To enable her to get on with her life.
To accomplish this exorcism, Nejman envisioned Delete/Her as an enveloping experience. Against an ethereal, literally atmospheric filmic backdrop (by Alan McIntyre Smith) of Nejman floating weightless in diaphanous angelwear, and accompanied by disembodied audio composed and composited by Mio Morales, Nejman and her company—consort John Zullo, Amy Adams, George Hirsch, Kristin Licata and Mary Madsen—performed the ritual at Dixon Place last month. (Its iteration as a work in progress was presented at the Queens Museum of Art this past summer; footage can be seen on YouTube.)
The entire experience was entirely surreal. Delete/Her opened with the company as bleachered spectators (a mimic, mirrored audience; a doll-rack of de Chirico automata) as Nejman and Zullo did the human tango in sometimes spasmodic, sometimes intimate, demonstrative variations. (Walking the Lower East Side afterwards I found the paixonites and pretenders of the teeming bar crowd engaged in similar, unsimulated displays behind streetside windows. Too bad so few had seen Delete/Her: they’d be the wiser—and forewarned—and maybe more urgently passionate for the experience.) When the entire company joined in, these acts became abstract, the dancers animals of unnamed species, dream animals, lobotomized, with their heads on upside down, checking to confirm they were alive, that they existed, handwashing obsessively, compulsively (all of this really happened). So as they glided left—jellyfish in air, adrift in disoriented emptiness—or spasmed right—flailing in frustration, arms weaponized—their heads became appendages encrusted with incidental faces, their arms and legs and trunks possessed of striated oneiro-sentience.
Delete/Her, as might be inferred from the subject matter, is serious business, the personal perhaps a metaphor for the societal, replete with depression to the point of emotionlessness and the perceived bereavement of the current era—a period of ironically hyperconnected alienation, discontinuity, the experienced reality that we are irreversibly discardable without apology or notice, and a whole lot more really wonderful contingencies I’m just dying to tell you about before you commit hara-kiri. But don’t. Really. One of Delete/Her’s compelling qualities is Nejman’s calmness in the high waves (and deep troughs) of waking life. And the physical vitality of her doll-dressed female and tank-and-drawstring male dancers. And the optimism that closes Delete/Her.
The instant the dance began, I saw as a visual theme of this performance its homage to the modern painters, including the surrealists. The ongoing stream of dynamic tableaux brought to mind Picasso’s “Two Women…” (“Deux femmes courant sur la plage [La course]”) and “Guernica”(they actually did the tongue scream multiple times), Magritte’s firmaments, Carl Milles’s “Man and Pegasus” and the insane illogic of dreams. Nejman herself evoked the light, fleet figures in “ Two Women;” Zullo holding her up recalled Miles’s soaring sculpture. Was it coincidental? I don’t think entirely so. Whether this inheres to modern dance, or is simply reflexive to the overimaginative dilettante, watching Delete/Her produced an outpouring of Rorschachian reveries.
A few overintellectualized cavils: seeking narrative, an audience member might be forgiven for trying to fathom the point of entry—the entire history? —or dreams following abandonment? In either case, more emotional depth would enrich the experience. If the former, then more overt, relationship-defining sex, please, to provide some humor in contrast to the dominating heavy mental train wreck of bereavement and recovery. If the latter, then more murderous rage, Greek tragedy, and maybe some good old-fashioned dysfunctional Anne Sexton masturbation, a vengeful Lorena Bobbitt. As Delete/Her was delivered, Eros had already left the building, even if the dancers technically went through the motions. Love, lost, hurts.
Intellectually, Delete/Her presents unexpected insights. It suggests that the physical intelligence of dance is on par with intellectual and emotional intelligence, that it can provide a salve to heal intellectual and emotional pain. Nejman says that when she performs she seeks to project her energy into the audience, and that when she watches dance she tries to absorb the dancers’ intensity. Watching Delete/Her also leads to the inescapable conclusion that dance education should be culturally mandatory in every context—ritual, social, expressive, spontaneous.
Dance, because it’s performed, is ephemeral, which is no small part of its mystery. When the performance was over, there remained the lingering physical electricity, the retinal afterimages, the echoing acoustics, the short-term memories, the cleansing themes of recovery and rebirth awaiting the mind’s dreaming night. In communicating its narrative, Delete/Her also communicated our own real ephemerality and immateriality: that material things—including fickle, inconstant humans—pass, that life is temporary, that memories travel lightly, that we are resilient. And how much we need to be entranced by dancers floating through our worlds’ vivid dreams.