JUDSON MEMORIAL CHURCH | NOVEMBER 13, 2010
There are a lot of reasons to make art about the weather right now, the most obvious being climate change. Rebecca Davis’s what I’m saying is born from the weather may be addressing the fate of our climate system. More likely, though, she is evoking the weather as a fundamental force of change and becoming. This is apparent at the start of the performance, as four dancers—lying on the floor head-to-head, covered in newspapers (the weather section, of course)—incant sentences beginning with the phrase “I will….” The breathing of the dancers is synchronized, whether they are gasping or breathing more steadily. As though to say something were to do something, enunciation becomes a form of sympathetic magic. A world is born through the collective breath of the dancers.
Can dance help one to understand weather as a “thing”? Can the body become synched with climatic substance? Can it undergo or embody the weather as a substance? The title of Davis’s performance comes from a book of poems by the Colorado-based poet Eric Baus, called The To Sound. In his book, Baus cracks open a poetic syntax in order to put it back together again, in the process helping his reader to understand and explore a poetic grammar. One could read Davis’s dance in a similar way, in that it may also attempt to represent the weather as an ordering of both discursive and sensory experience.
Throughout the performance I was thinking about atmosphere—literally and figuratively. There was something atmospheric about the music, composed by Matt Marble, which reminded me of Arthur Russell’s breezy, orchestral Instrumentals. There were also numerous theatrical elements that contributed to the atmospheric qualities of the work. As the piece unfolds, a dancer unravels her sweater, leaving a continuous trail of yarn throughout the wings of the auditorium. Another dancer wears a cape with jingle bells. When she spins, the cape twirls with her, bells a-jingle. The synaesthesic effect of this movement is characteristic of many of the effects of Davis’s composition, which ends with a kind of light show. The dancers file onstage carrying mason jars filled with ice cubes and glow sticks which they place throughout the performance space. As the lights go down, the auditorium seems lit by stars or fireflies.
Despite Davis’s references to weather, the movements are not stratospheric, but terrestrial. One of my favorite passages occurs early on, as the full ensemble of seven dancers forms a chorus line on hands and knees. Beginning with their backsides towards the audience, the dancers gradually rotate 180 degrees. But instead of getting faces, we get faces filled with hair, as though horses’ manes. The work bursts at the seams with powerful images and movements that vitally evoke weather in both its molecular and visible aspects.
THOM DONOVAN edits Wild Horses Of Fire weblog and co-edits ON Contemporary Practice. His poetry and criticism have appeared widely online and in print.