February 18 – February 21, 2016
In the current age of digital proliferation, it is no secret how little we, as humans in the developed world, have to do in order to carry out a task. Be it ordering food, uploading a photo, tracking a package, or hashtagging our thoughts, daily efforts do not require a large amount of emotional investment or precious attachment. In a ten-minute time span, I can communicate with my best friend in Colombia while catching up on the day’s major news and depositing a check, all on a device that fits in the palm of my hand. Sitting at a coffee shop, I can fact-check my friend’s outrageous data-spew on the cost of living in major American cities before he ends his sentence on the matter. In just a few seconds spent with my Facebook feed, I can both hear about and instantly view Beyoncé’s new music video in less than the amount of time it takes me to refresh the page.
And, then, there’s live performance: the seeming antithesis of the technology-driven, digitally focused experiences of our daily existence. Performance, in our current world, is now a term implying as much about attention and presence than its more conventional renderings of entertainment or provocation. It is in this specific understanding of performance—a chance to be in a room with others who choose to slow down and tune in—that I find myself intrigued by Sarah Skaggs’s latest work, The New Ecstatic 2.0. Created in collaboration with dancer Cori Kresge, and presented as a part of the “Travelogues” series at Abrons Arts Center, the piece acts both as challenger to and arbiter of the daily living that allows us to exist in a constant state of disengagement. How, in fact, it is the powerful task of live performance that disarmingly unpacks how we cope with ourselves and each other; sitting, knowing, seeing, witnessing, feeling.
The duet is an expanded version (a software update, if you will) of The New Ecstatic, a piece that premiered in 2013, and continues Skaggs’s fascination with what she deems “ecstatic” dance and how the body responds to everyday living, experiences that are inherently rooted in trauma, recovery and everything in between.
The piece begins suddenly with Skaggs and Kresge tracing the space, their energy feeling connected and sisterly in its unison. In fact, Skaggs and Kresge, who have a working relationship that runs over a decade, come off as eerily familial—like a futuristic mother-daughter team who seems to have a cosmic attachment. There are many moments in which one dancer, usually Kresge, is left alone in the space but the distinct energy and influence of the other is present.
Punctuated by choreography that is both hungrily robust and decidedly casual, the textural shifts in the movement prove most exciting. Skaggs and Kresge have painted a rich interior world, where each body contains a multilayered responsiveness. A subtle brush of hands or a roll of the shoulder instantly explodes into bounding walks and swinging leaps. In a particularly charged moment, Kresge enacts a solo that seems to carry itself from the pelvis, her limbs reaching past her bodily confines until they must recoil and contract. The movement is simple and allows a single action—the raising of an arm, the turn of the neck—to charge the body of electric fullness. Although the performance was in the intimate space of Abrons’s Experimental Theater, the focus was cast as if a far horizon could come into our view. I am reminded that this idea of the ecstatic can be defiant and subversive in nature, as much as it is freeing and joyous. In Skaggs’s approach, the ecstatic is not a state to achieve, but a mindset to reclaim. As much as our bodies are thwarted, forgotten, or traumatized, therein lays the potential for power.
Her pared down movement language remains committed to ideas around transcendence or, at least, a striving for a totality of presence. Skaggs seems to know that it is not enough just to come to the theater; we must grapple with what this time alone, with others and with our thoughts, can seek to expose. Perhaps, we can do some reclaiming of our own. Perhaps, in this shrouded darkness, we can find our ecstasy.