This past weekend I performed in an evening of dances by Boston-based choreographer Caitlin Corbett. This choreographer has made a name for herself in Boston as a person willing to carry the post-modern torch for a dance community that tends to get mired in lyrical/modern mud. To this end she often employs non-trained dancers, or "non-dancers", in her work. The dance that I performed in involved 10 dancers performing a series of quick, specific gestures to a steady beat that oscillated between 8/4 and 12/4. For the purpose of this performance weekend, I was classified as a trained dancer.
The dance that closed the first half, however, included several seasoned performers who because of their limited dance training were referred to backstage as the non-dancers. "How does one feel being in a dance performance with the label non-dancer?", I asked. All expressed that they felt fine with this classification. They were the first to admit that they couldn't do the impressive extensions the company members were doing in the opening piece, and besides, they were content just being involved in the hustle and bustle of a performance.
Ms. Corbett clearly uses non-dancers in her work to achieve certain, specific aesthetic aims. For instance, "non-dancers" bring an air of spontaneity and freshness to their performance that stems from their having to perform specific tasks in an environment that they are unaccustomed to (the stage). We see in their movment a committed sense of presence as they circumnavigate bodies, set pieces, and spike marks. As they focus on what they have to do, we as an audience feast our eyes on what a body looks like when it is intently focussed on a task. In Ms. Corbett's hands, this is rich material to watch.
One audience member told me that she felt a special kinship to the untrained dancers in the performance. Their earnest movements and gestures brought her closer to the work, as she felt she could see herself in their experience. I wonder if the "non-dancers" in the performance felt as though they were doing a lesser version of choreography that could be taken "further" in the body of a trained dancer, or if they knew the special role they play in the overall composition of the piece. They were, at least for one audience member, an invitation to step inside the work and experience it without the dissociative experience that can come when looking at bodies that do things we can't do. They formed a bridge between the abstract beauty of the work and the reality of everyday bodies, and perhaps without even realizing it.