The Beach-as-Stage: Moriah Evans’s REPOSE Demands Your Attention
The latest iteration of Beach Sessions Dance Series unfolded one durational live artwork from one artist. Traveling a 1.4 mile stretch of Rockaway Beach, REPOSE delighted beachgoers and an intrepid dance audience for six hours.
At 1:05 p.m. on August 29, 2021, the performers of Moriah Evans’s REPOSE could be found scattered on the sand in neon green swimwear at Beach 86 in Rockaway for the 7th season of Beach Sessions Dance Series, curated and produced by Sasha Okshteyn. Walking up the boardwalk from Beach 96—where my husband, 4-year-old daughter, and I had the good sense to park, splitting the difference between the 1.4 mile stretch between where the event began and where it would end—we were on high alert for “the dancers at the beach.” As my eyes adjusted to the scene, I could suddenly see the little dots of green everywhere, artfully embedded in between groups of beachgoers. We set up chairs and then walked around so that my daughter could find every dancer and count them: 21 in all. We found their bodies in various states and stages of repose: prone, supine, side-lying, half unrolled, some limbs unfurled, others curled tightly in. Up close, a pattern of white concentric circles and text appeared on their costumes, credited to the Bureau of Future Choreography and Amber Evans, a sort of repeating Venn diagram that read, “LIFE/DANCE/DEATH.”
While the dancers awakened and writhed in slow motion, some more twisted and tortured while others more tranquil, and my daughter began digging in the sand near one of them, Daria Faïn, I could feel my senses begin to dial into my surroundings. It was an overcast day with the kind of diffused light that makes colors seem more vivid and saturated, creating a brilliant natural design in which to pick out the dancers. Behind us, a birthday party was beginning to rev up, playing a steady stream of club remixes. Planes were coming in low for landing at JFK Airport, cutting shapes through the clouds. Their engines temporarily drowned out the sounds of celebration behind us. Seagulls circled. The waves looked a little rough, reminding me that somewhere down south, a hurricane was about to make landfall. A lifeguard took up a pose next to a dancer for the camera. Cameras then seemed to be everywhere; several professionals were recording the event, weighted down with heavy gear, along with all the phones drawn from the pockets of dance aficionados who ventured out for this site-specific performance, and unsuspecting beachgoers wanting to capture that moment they realized they were in the midst of something unusual.
After 40 minutes or so, the dancers found their way to their feet, each in their own way and time, and walked closer to the water’s edge. They began mirroring the movements of everyone present. Melanie Greene took on my daughter’s excitedly swinging arms and tightly clenched fists as she anticipated running into the water toward my husband. Soon Burr Johnson joined, and his height further amplified all of her wiggles and whipping at the air to comic delight. Many sunbathers were now on their feet too, wanting to get closer to the action. The humor bled into the first migration up the beach as the dancers explored various ways of perambulating, each walk sillier than the next. We gathered up our things and began to follow them, but couldn’t keep up. Soon they were just little flecks of green flickering past the surf beach.
We caught up to them in a stretch of sand where the ocean is guarded by a long strip of red flags and there are frequent warning signs to watch out for dangerous objects submerged under the water. A lifeguard whistled and called out to a dancer who had strayed: “Sir, I know you are a performer, but you can’t be that far out.” While that dancer continued with their solo a little closer to shore, another group was taking turns burying each other in the sand while a couple others flitted through the crowd like butterflies wearing iridescent wings. In front of us, a more formal dancing duet full of leaps began, while in the distance to my left, a small group was jerking and gyrating from some unknown deep place. Looking right, I could just make out a green speck on a boogie board. A series of cartwheels had my daughter gasping and pointing, “Look Momma!” In this durational form, space and time, those essential elements of choreography, were being stretched and folded back in on themselves like the tide rolling in and out. While at times, the distances and the hours made it difficult to have a sense of the whole, each moment was in turn magnified, celebrated, crystalized.
And then, as it does in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse, time passed. The next couple of hours unfolded in a nonlinear way, the awareness of its undulating nature made possible by a heightened sense the dancers of REPOSE set into motion. They continued to migrate, while we chose to stay put for a little while. The sun came out. We ate concession food and did our own versions of Evans’s participatory score, which offered a series of didactic suggestions in comic strip form: my daughter buried our feet (“Pour hot sand over another’s skin.”); we let waves crash in on us (“Recline at the shoreline, relax into a position. Stay there until the waves crash…”); we watched all manner and types of people stroll by (“Pay attention. Watch people. Attention alters what is attended.”). Our minds wandered and emptied. The sun went back behind the clouds. Eventually, we packed up again and schlepped our stuff to Beach 110.
At 5 p.m. the neon figures were once again in repose, but this time with waves crashing over their bodies. Breaking up the stillness with crawling, rolling, triumphant standing, the dancers stretched out in one long horizon line. More people were gathered in what now felt like an audience. We set up our chairs in line with a set of speakers, anticipating the live sound performance by experimental musician and composer David Watson. A little before 6 p.m., a droning sound—a recording of Watson on bagpipes?—emanated from those speakers near the dunes, and the dancers heeded its call, one by one getting out of the water to lie down in front of the musicians. Sam Kulik wandered through the audience with a tuba while the dancers’ bodies continued to quiet. The layers of drawn-out notes were a fitting end to REPOSE’s nearly six-hour run time, sounding as they did like a soundtrack to the beginning, or end, of something epic and momentous.