How should we make dances during a pandemic? How can we make dances as the world warms? How will we make dances when our neighbors and loved ones get sick and die from disease or climate disaster? P I N E, a new performance work by dance artist m i c c a, seeks answers.
P I N E, created in response to the grief and loss of the past two years and performed in mid- and late January, unfolded amidst an unlikely forest on Far Rockaway Beach. Dozens of evergreens rescued from their former lives as Christmas trees formed a striking installation in the sand throughout January. They were then mulched by the city’s Parks Department. With nature as a stage and a repurposed set that returns to the earth, P I N E offers a welcome alternative to the resource-heavy practice of stage performance.
Viewing P I N E is primarily to experience small figures moving in a vast landscape. The four dancers who make up the ensemble—Sarah Chien, Kristi Cole, Madeline Robertson, and Therese Ronco—are dressed in bright red, standing in stark contrast to the subdued greens, grays, and blues of the natural surroundings. Three of them begin moving through the trees with a ritualistic process of marching, shuffling, and crying out. They wail, first abstractly, then infused with increasing grief. Their cries melt into the distance, sometimes barely audible across the huge expanse of the beach.
m i c c a, though, is the centerpiece of P I N E. Early in the work, Cole attaches one end of a rope to a tree and the other end to a harness on m i c c a’s chest. For much of the performance m i c c a attempts to propel through space attached to the tree, dragging it, rolling with it as if in battle, clutching it like a lover. Running in the sand is a challenge under normal circumstances—attached to a tree it becomes tragicomic. m i c c a stumbles and falls, jumps back up, stays down.
Some of the recurring motifs of P I N E are actions that have been discouraged in recent times: outstretched hands and hugs. The dancers do lift and hold each other, but just as often they lower each other to the ground or collapse. P I N E feels more catharsis than balm—it exercises the frustration and senselessness of our collective loss. At times, it is almost absurd, with swinging Louis Armstrong tunes contrasting a performer hurling their body into the sand, or m i c c a bourrée-ing about with a tree held in front of their body, as if hiding from the audience in a Saturday-morning cartoon.
Physical empathy is another reason this performance is no balm: it is painful to watch the dancers dressed only in light layers, some of them with no gloves or hats, in the sub-freezing weather for half an hour. Despite the bitterness, the dancers do find solace in communion. The most affecting moments are when, after stumbling and dragging themselves through the sand, two dancers find each other in a moment of embrace. Or, when m i c c a is lifted overhead and carried by the other dancers in a slow, reverent procession as a religious Bach motet echoes across the sand.
At times the dance is swallowed by the landscape, unable to compete with the majesty of the waves, the never-ending stretch of sand and sky. This doesn’t seem accidental. The vastness of the ocean pushing repeatedly against the shore is a metaphor for our grief. It goes out, it comes in, it might swallow us, or we might swim.
But the distance between audience and performers and the great, wide expanse of the beach does sometimes become an issue when the choreography cannot quite fill its gargantuan container. The dance benefits from moments of fullness offered by naturally occurring interlopers: seagulls in the sky, random passersby peeking in, airplanes shockingly close overhead on their way to and from JFK. The more figures present in the landscape, the better.
For this reason, it is a welcome invitation when Idgy Dean—m i c c a collaborator, music artist, mystic, and soon-to-be Harvard Divinity School graduate who introduced the January 16th performance with a stirring sermon on art, loss, and togetherness—gestures to the audience to enter the forest and affix our own remembrances, written on ribbon before the performance, to the trees. By this point the dance is done and has left light wreckage in its wake: hats discarded by the dancers, a few downed trees. As the audience enters this strange world, the names of those loved and lost in hand, the dancers sit on the beach, arms around each other, a tableau of togetherness. They stare off into the great gray sky over the great gray ocean and remain still together despite the cold, despite our losses. No, because of our losses.