Into Sunlight by Robin Becker Dance
November 12, 2010
On October 17, 1967, an American battalion marched into decimation at Ong Thanh, Vietnam. Almost 40 years later, American journalist David Maraniss wrote They Marched into Sunlight, a record of the event as recalled by its participants. Now, choreographer Robin Becker is turning the tragic lessons, seemingly unlearned, into a different kind of educational event with Into Sunlight, a forthcoming dance performance by members of her company and Hofstra University students. Into Sunlight, which explores “themes of cultural embodiment, the impact of war and violence, and the integrative power of art,” was recently performed as a work in progress, with Becker’s prefatory and interstitial explanations. Edwardo Brito, Lisa Clementi, Yoko Sugimoto-Ikezawa, Jessica Pulcini, Paul Monaghan, Chazz Fenner-McBride, and Nicole Sclafani engaged in recombining configurations simulating lethal confrontation, reconciliation, and reflection.
The performance began with the dancers in regimental line, commencing interaction as they moved across the floor. Buddhist bells awakened the dancers in the next scene, and Monaghan and Sclafani performed an abstract pas de deux. As the performance progressed, the action became more violent: dancers grappling over strewn paper, choreographic enactments of chaos and protest, wrestlers on the mat, a trio intertwined combatively. After an intimate duet, we saw the battle terrible, push-to-shove and a single prone dancer, to be reborn, perhaps, as Carl Milles’s Man (of Man and Pegasus), or Aristide Maillol’s flowing The River in male incarnation, looking for G*d in the light, fumbling, a panoply of movements evocative of classical ballet—jetés and pirouettes—unresolved. Becker’s choreography inhabited the entire stage, permitting acrobatics and creating a sense of aggressive domination. In the end, the bodies were, necessarily, carried out.
The plaintive score by Chris Lastovicka, played by Eric Edberg on cello and sung by soprano Bisan Toron, intensified the performance’s emotional impact, with Edberg and Toron appearing and reappearing upstage. In the third movement, Becker Agonistes performed a twisting solo as Toron stood and sang behind her. And Edberg’s and Toron’s ghostly background notes amplified the sense of tragedy conveyed by the dancers’ movements.
The genius of Into Sunlight lay in its ironic juxtaposition of the beautiful bodily fulfillment of dance with the destructive reality of military violence and the irony of youth conscripted into state murder and self-sacrifice. One hopes that by exploring the life- and civilization-negating forces of conflict, these young people and their audiences will learn the futility of repeating history, and will so influence others. For this, dance is an ideal medium.
In final form, Into Sunlight will be the centerpiece of an interdisciplinary symposium co-hosted by the Cultural Center at Hofstra and the University of Wisconsin, Madison, scheduled for Spring 2011, with information forthcoming at intosunlight.org. To paraphrase Wilfred Owen, Dulce et decorum, yes—to dance.