January, 2015  Mark Mann Response #5 to what goes between Rehearsal

Choreographer: Tracey Norman / Interpreters: Jesse Dell, Beth Despres, Brittany Duggan & Sky Fairchild-Waller / Studio 103, Artscape Youngplace, Toronto 

The big change between this rehearsal and the last one I attended, of course, was Jesse dancing in place of Marie France. But for me personally, another big change was coming into the rehearsal with a strong feeling of familiarity for the work. I was thinking this morning about how we usually only see a piece once, and so watching a performance is often like meeting a stranger for the first time, sharing an intimate encounter, and then parting again forever.

It’s one of those cliches that thankfully actually happens sometimes: you meet someone at a party or sit beside them on a plane, and suddenly you just connect. You speak your mind, and they do too. Your own thoughts seem clearer, and you surprise yourself with how much you want to say. The words come to you so much more simply and truthfully than they usually do. But no matter how much unexpected honesty you discover in the encounter, in the end, it doesn’t really amount to much. All that’s really shared is just a moment… next to nothing. At best, a performance is like that—surprisingly close but shockingly brief.

There are a few poems I’ve read repeatedly, a few books I’ll read again, maybe once or twice, and of course songs I’ve listened to a thousand times and will go on listening to. But dance is harder to know in that way. Videos are good, but dance feels to me more like a live medium. (Some people admire movements that are made to look effortless, but I like the effort, and I want to be in the room with it. I like to be aware that real people are dancing, and real bodies are moving.) Not that yours is a dance I’ve come to know, exactly, but rather a process. Or maybe what I’ve experienced in visiting your rehearsals is more like an environment, one that you initially constructed out of your aspirations and abstractions, and the choreography is like a time-lapse sequence, fast-forwarding your intention through all these stages of evolution to make it habitable for dancing bodies. A conscious weathering. Or to put it differently, it’s like you had to take your intuitions and break them in.

At any rate, that’s a very long way of saying that I enjoyed returning to the space you’ve created in this piece, and the changes I observed were more about wearing in than making over, even with a different dancer. The piece felt clearer, more focused and more decisive. The details stood out more distinctly, the elements were firmer, the emotions more direct. The most accessible moment, I think, is when Beth tries to break through the group and they encircle her. That’s when the piece makes the plainest sense to me, as an outsider, and it’s hard not to see the rest of the work through the lens of that exchange. I think the most important moment is when Jesse rises from the ground haltingly (though I can’t articulate why I think that), a phrase now stretched out from what it was.

I also like when Jesse and Beth lie down together, maybe just because it happened so close to where I was sitting, right at my feet (a perspective the audience won’t have, of course). But I’m also just happy they settle down for a good long look at each other, as everyone clearly wants to.

Anyway, these are a few impressions, but the strongest impression is the texture of the dancers’ animal-like curiosity for each other. There’s a security in their collective relationship (affirmed by how they held Beth—a trap, but also an embrace) that means they can really accomplish something they couldn’t separately.

They’re really working for it, and you feel this in how the piece pulses. I liked how the dancers came in and out of flow of the dance, slowing to a walk and then launching off again. The piece expands and contracts repeatedly, and this creates a very palpable sense of breathing. I felt I could breathe along with it. My attention synced very well with the moments of energy and rest.

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