By Jessica Lockhart
The question is whether this evening of dance was supposed to be engaging or enraging — or both.
Dance Up — Prometheus Dance. Presented by Word Music/CRASH Arts at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston, MA, on January 26.
Last Saturday night, Prometheus Dance presented five different dances that captured, with disheartening precision, America’s current state: despair, resignation, fear, uncertainty, and bewilderment. The question is whether this evening of dance was supposed to be engaging or enraging — or both.
Let me describe the dancers movement in the world premiere of ECHO, which was choreographed by Prometheus co-director Diane Arvanties. The piece starts when the performers, one by one, enter the stage and stand still. In silence they wait. Then someone scratches an itch; another shifts and flexes an ankle; one looks over a shoulder to see who’s there. They stare out at the audience. Silence. Slowly the group forms into a tight circle and the dancers begin to sway. Then they moved apart, their walk seeming to suggest a sense of peacefulness — or was it more about resignation? A series of held staccato poses, in which dancers reached out or huddled together, seemed to be a sign they were searching or in despair. As the pace picked up, their movements became faster and more furious, gestures of seeking were intensified. But then the performers slowed down, returning to their initial postures of questioning and uncertainty.
Guest choreographer Korhan Basaran choreographed the second piece RAU-REIMAGINED. Dancers pass around a large egg-shaped object; it is treated as something they don’t want to give up. The thing exerts a power over them — like the ring had over Frodo in the Hobbit. They continue to share until one dancer tries to steal it and it falls and smashes with a loud shattering noise. They stoop over, twitching and jerking as if something is prodding them. They reach outward, their crooked arms going nowhere. Both of these dances were heavy, grey, and depressing; the masses of dancers found no comfort. In both, the dancers’ searching is infused with a foreboding heaviness.
Another guest choreographer, Riley Watts, presented the third part of his trilogy VEIL. This dance is based on the Buddhist conception of the ‘veils of reality,’ which are the veils that overlap and help constitute our sense of reality. Six dancers dressed in clean white turtlenecks and closely fitted tan slacks moved in slow and meditative sequences. Their repeated movement in the shape of circles, which flowed and ebbed, was hypnotic. This dance supplied a spiritual balm to the depictions of uncertainty and anxiety that had come before.
Prometheus Dance was brave to present such a dark and portentous program, filled with a never-ending wash of bodies moving in rote anguish. The dancers sometimes moved quickly, with excellent dance movement. But much of time they were slow, stepping around in a hollowed-out trance. On the one hand, art should reflect the state of the world, and I applaud choreographers that explore our social condition, that take us deep into the uncomfortable and won’t look away. But making the point over and over again eventually becomes boring — we are beaten over the head rather than invited to think. Audience members applauded warmly at first, but as the evening’s gloom continued they became more subdued.
Prometheus co-directors Arvanties and Tommy Neblett presented excerpts from two longer dances. Heart of the Matter depicts how couples and groups deal with one another. It might well be a very strong evening–length dance, but the parts presented here didn’t make any sense.The final dance was an excerpt from PROJECT I.I.I. / Influence, Impact, Imprint. The theme was inclusion versus alienation, gathering and tearing apart. The dancers passed a giant ball from one to another, until one dancer no longer wanted to share. As on a children’s playground, there were taunts, keep-away games, and hurt feelings. The ball then was strapped to a rope and a dancer, holding the rope, swung the ball in a wide circle. The dancers jumped and dived to avoid being hit by the spinning ball. The dancers were dressed in business suits, setting-up the idea that these were adults behaving like squabbling kids. There were excellent video projections (including spoken word) by Robert and Shana Parke Harrison. The images showed yarn being wound into a huge ball; we also saw yarn circling a tree trunk. Then, in slo mo, the ball of yarn unwound to reveal an apple.
Engaging or enraging? Does art unwind the fear that’s around us to reveal a delicious hidden apple? Or is Prometheus Dance, which has been creating work for 30 years now, suggesting that we have bitten down, once again, into the forbidden fruit. Eden is now even further away.
Jessica Lockhart is a National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Dance Criticism and has a BA in Communication from the University of Southern Maine. Lockhart is a Maine Association of Broadcasters award winning independent journalist. Currently, she also works as program director at WMPG Community radio.