INCITING EXPERIENCEby Dalia Ratnikas
LEVYdance’s EVERYONE INTIMATE ALONE VISIBLY JANUARY 29-31
I met my fiancé on a dance floor, at an open-air discotheque in Europe. The other people were standing around, in groups of two or three, but their stasis had no impact on us. Fixated upon each other, we danced intently. We shared three intense days; then I got on a plane back to my country. He got on a plane to his country. Our two countries being in separate hemispheres, my friends told me to get Skype. (I did not.)
The ever-present potential to connect, and the spatial/temporal disruption that generates disconnect, exist not only between lovers on the dance floor, but between performers and audiences in the theater. In Everyone Intimate Alone Visibly, choreographer/ director/dancer Ben Levy, in partnership with Aline Wachsmuth, establishes a space for performers and audience to share, in which an intimate relationship evolves.
Joyce SoHo forewarns us that “Audience members will not be seated for the entire show.” This ambiguous statement leaves us uncertain whether we will not be seated at all, or whether we will only be seated for a portion of it. Inside the Joyce’s black box, Levy has constructed a white cube from four screens. Herded inside, we stand in small groups, chatting casually, when two bodies weave through the small spaces between us. Music plays and we know that the show is beginning, but we don’t move out of the way. We are curious and we are not shy. We don’t give the dancers any more space than we would at a club, as they twist and crumple together. Their bodies are intensely intimate, but their faces are cool, with the stern detachment of high modernism.
While they dance, a recorded voice introduces them to us. Ben was born between this and that year, weighs between this many and that many pounds, and lives in this neighborhood. He graduated from this school, with a double degree in this and that. Aline was born in this year, and lives in a Victorian house on this street. She has a picture of a window on her computer screen so that she can pretend to look out into the countryside. While we become more friendly with the concepts “Ben” and “Aline,” beginning to picture their lives outside this white cube in a black box, they dance.
We let them dance, but the soundtrack stops them. A computerized voice begins a pedantic, perhaps comical, monologue on the topic of “Chairs.” We are instructed to divide ourselves into four groups and stand in the room’s “Corners.” In the “Corners,” we are told, we will find “Chairs.” This is true; we find them. We are instructed to each take a chair and place it in a row along the side of the room corresponding to our corner. We are then instructed to sit in these chairs. We are disorganized, but ultimately obedient.
Once we are seated, electronic music and analog dancing begin again. Now, Ben and Aline are flat on the floor. Perhaps because they have privacy, no longer sharing their stage with strangers, an emotional connection begins to evolve. They dance horizontally in a square of white light, until Aline disappears. Her projected image, trapped in the light on the floor, reappears. Ben dances with Aline’s image. It is like Skype. Aline-in-the-floor stretches out her hand, and Ben reaches for it, coveting something he cannot grasp. Aline-in-the-floor rolls away from Ben, and Ben rolls toward Aline-in-the-floor. He strokes her image. His features, at last in sync with his posture, are forlorn.
The score changes again to cue a change in tone, and Ben and Aline come up to us, sitting comfortably in our chairs, and pull us up. They hastily rearrange the chairs into groups, and, with haphazard care, shepherd us to new seats. This process repeats. Things get a bit more frantic. They pull us up again, and shove the chairs out of the way. We’re back in their space on the floor, and they are dancing as big as they can in what little room they have. Before, Aline slowly investigated me, her eyes inches from mine. Now, her foot sweeps inches past my nose as Ben swings her body in a wide arc.
Their movement comes to a climax after a heated exchange, in which they lean into and push each other’s bodies, maintaining a single point of contact (the crown of her head against his ribs, her elbow against his forearm, her neck against his neck). Soon, they are rushing around the room again, throwing the chairs into heaps. Then they stand, covered in sweat, and the piece is finished.
The biographies are a bit indulgent, the “Chairs” monologue jejune, and the wall projections (but not the floor projection) passé, but Levy is young and I forgive him his overzealous staging. By the end of the piece, we are shaken, and we are moved. We have partaken in something. We have connected—with Ben, Aline, and even each other. This connection required that we shared physical space/time and feeling, that we were all together in the same moving mess. This is what dancing can do when it pushes past performance: re-make us human; allow for empathy’s conception.