It doesn’t get much more personal than this. Dancer/choreographers Judith Sánchez Ruiz and Souleymane Badolo performing solos at St. Marks Church, low lit, spotlit, and minimally, yet poignantly accompanied. The program, i get lost, part of Danspace Project’s series of guest-curated programs called Platforms 2010, was commissioned by the choreographer and multimedia artist Ralph Lemon as an extension of what he says is his “research into trance, kinetic energy and alternative states of consciousness in contemporary performance and dance contexts.” Sánchez and Badolo doubly delivered, entrancing and entranced.
Sánchez, identified as one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch in 2010,” opened with And They Forgot to Love, a deeply personal evocation of real life alienation. As the lights came up, Sánchez was standing statuary, stock still, with electrified enormous black coiffure, in full black lace, a widow’s skirt with matching leggings, her chest an eerie tape striped bustier, chalk white, evoking a Posada skeleton, an anti-painted portrait, a human x-ray, heartless if transparent. When she finally turned away from us we witnessed in arresting beauty the full smooth dorsal landscape of her uncovered cocoa back—breathtaking in its double metaphoric message of opacity and rejection. Sánchez took us through the trope of involuntary solitude: the little humming birdbreaths, the prowling disembodied soul (you could almost smell the animal, noctambulant, emerging from its lair), the sexually frustrated acrobat’s raised pumping and presenting hips; the cryptic hand gestures of a madwoman attempting to communicate with herself—or untangle the hopeless weft of her fate; the impossible aerial sidesculpture poses, legs floating midair on the floor as she flew in motionless illusion (Einstein could’ve saved some time if he’d seen Sánchez curving space); and finally a pithed dancing doll, and fade to black.
Sánchez’s Spanish soundtrack, a monologue in her own voice that began in the second part of her performance, building up from inaudibility to a subconscious drone, provided a potent, mysterious, and, yes, entrancing ambience for her increasingly assertive movements. The substance, Sánchez says, was the disconnectedness and superficiality that she says defines today’s technological society, and “the lack of time we all seem to have for one another.” Not being music, it was inherently refreshing (modern dance tracks sometimes seem to try too hard); being somber, it was ominously sobering. Whether a multilinguist hablante de español would’ve found the speech amplifying, inspiring or distracting was not an issue for the monoglot reviewer: it was, in any case, symbolic human noise—a vocal continuo to undergird the dance.
Bringing personal life experience to a creative endeavor can result in a work of formidable emotive affect, which Forgot is, but this can be difficult for the audience, both to recognize and cope with psychologically. Watching a dancer demonstrate deep personal pain in the physical way that only dance can do can be overwhelming (the Socratean prescription γνῶθι σεαυτόν, “know thyself,” is not a popular pastime in our Age of Crushing Stress). If ever a solo was the right medium for a message, Forgot was it. Alone, Sánchez danced iconic loneliness and loss, and challenged us to seek each other.
Souleymane Badolo’s performance, Yaado (Cemetery) opened with a eulogy—the perfect bookend to Sánchez’s closing—and equally mysterious in its effect. In en face French, Badolo, dressed in ossuary pale linen-nubble simple dress, poignantly described the lives and passages of his family in his West African homeland of Burkina Faso, a landlocked country south of Mali and north of Ghana. Badolo’s delivery of this proemial soliloquy was hypnotic, demanding reverential attention. And then, sizing the audience up, simultaneously svelte and muscular, he lifted off his top and segued into movement. Badolo called for light, and there was light; a matador (or, perhaps, a bull), he held a charcoal isotonic sack, a bodybuilder’s prayer rug, his flailing hands in supplication. Badolo so evoked: the Buddhist African in undulant ablution, the headstand neonatal sculpture of the birth of the cosmos, l’oiseau de feu, the clapping thundergod or Rousseau’s “Sleeping Gypsy,” inter alia.
For the final movements, Badolo was joined by Diabate Youb on kora, a 21-string goatskin harp-lute, and Kanoté Mamadou on tama— “talking drums.” With their accompaniment, Badolo accelerated and animated his elastic movements, operating on a more recognizable plane, demonstrating the catalytic consummation of the marriage of music and dance. From pounding tama bird struts, to slo-mo stretches with Youb’s melodic kora, to the oozing lava lamp of rippling muscles, or his mimetic tongue-click clucking, Badolo enabled the audience to see atomic particles, to hear the cracking sound of infinite space. Ultimately, Mamadou both played and swayed a spectacular solo with his punctuating drums.
Special mention must be made of Carol Mullins’s heavenly lighting, the perfect soft and sensitive sunbeams that made both Sánchez and Badolo glow literally radiant.
Reflecting on i get lost led quickly to the image of a simultaneous, synchronic split-screen version of Sánchez and Badolo, an efficient upload for a nimble mind. Despite differences in style, a fusive duet by this pair could be quite harmonic—and would perhaps reveal an innovative calculus where 1 + 1 = infinite emotional depth.