I am very unfamiliar with dance as an art form. This may be the first professional production I’ve seen live. I bought ticket for the April 15, 2016 ODC boulders and bones because I saw it listed in Zoë Keating’s newsletter. I was excited to experience her music in person. However, the best place to start my description is when her rig lost power and the dancers continued in silence.
I love theater. I love stories. Experiencing a performance stripped of words and explicit narrative forces you to embrace a new vocabulary. In dance, the simplest part of that vocabulary involves movements in sync with music. Take away the music and you can concentrate on other parts of the visual vocabulary.
The performance opened with a time lapse movie showing the creation of a sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy – the titular boulder installed in a stonework arch at the mouth of a tunnel to nowhere. For me, one of the clearest parallels between the movie and the dance was the section I experienced performed in silence. Silence is the wrong word. There was an organic percussion in every breath, every landing and every contact between dancers. Dust was introduced in billowing clouds as if from Goldsworthy’s stone work. It hung in place and got reshaped in response to their movements. When the dust cleared and the music returned. I strained to hear the percussion but it was artfully hidden behind Keating’s cello.
There was one dancer dressed differently than all the others. Her clothing changed in stages from white to red over the course of the performance. This was striking, but I’m not sure what it meant.
In general, the male dancers had one outfit and the female dancers had a distinctly different outfit. This seems obvious enough not to mention, except that it was deconstructed near the middle when the gendered costumes were evenly distributed, yet not according to the gender of the dancers. This was one of the less subtle examinations of gender roles in the performance. There were plenty of others including same gender pairings, women lifting men and the lead in a pair of dancers shifting.
The gender deconstruction leaned heavily on the interchangeability of each dancer but there were plenty of moments for the individuality of each dancer to shine, often showcased in front of the rest of the group, like a jazz solo. There were also plenty of moments when the unique dancer (the one dressed in white then red) blended with the rest of the dancers. That in particular captured the way that Goldsworthy’s sculpture, while strikingly distinctive, still managed to blend into its environment.
It was a joy to hear Keating live and experience how she dealt so gracefully with equipment failure. Her overlapping cello samples fit perfectly with the complex visual storytelling of the dancers. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around how the dancers communicated so much through the instruments of strength and beauty.