2001 Season at Jacob's Pillow

Limón Dance Company: José Limón's There Is A Time
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: Ohad Naharin's Minus 16

Ted Shawn Theatre, Becket, Massachusetts

October 10, 2001
By S. E. Arnold

Dream driven gestures disconnected by the failsafe of sleep are but faint fractions of an outward sum. Short-changed of their waking meaning, these obscure and abridged gestures, nonetheless, signal private portent. Such strange and liquid locomotion haunted the stages of the 2001 season at Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. In fact, the regular manifestation of such dream-like qualities, both in the use of the body, subject matter, and production values hints of an aesthetic conspiracy. A conspiracy or ethos, however, that echoes one proclaimed by Antonin Artaud decades ago. It is as if by their embrace of subjective experience, whether of death, sex, dreams, or salsa recipes, as a source and subject of artistic focus contemporary choreographers want to say that, "All choreography is pig shit!"

In a sense, the Pillow season realized a progression in the artistic trend that moved away from the public and into the private realm. For example and within the context of this season, the arch pig stuff of choreography, (it was "writing" for Artaud), are those dance works that mean to describe or explain important aspects of human life to humans. In fact, the season opened with such a work. Presented in the Ted Shawn Theatre by the José Limón Company, There Is A Time, choreographed by José Limón in 1956, employs a clear, restrained, but expressive movement style. Additionally, There Is A Time uses commissioned music by Norman Dello Joio, and 12 dancers to re-tell 12 lessons found in Ecclesiastes. Integrated by mutual form--dance and music are, for example, a "theme and variations"--and text, the whole of There Is A Time intends first to identify and then comment on an aspect of the human condition. Moreover, described by the Limón Dance Foundation as "the physical expression of the human spirit," the public availability and applicability of its universal themes marks the choreography of Limón as pig stuff.

Appropriately, then, the progression culminates in the final work on the last program of the 10-week season in a work polar to the aesthetic embodied in There Is A Time. Minus 16, choreographed by Ohad Naharin and performed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in the Ted Shawn Theatre counters the pig stuff of There Is A Time by favoring personal experience over public truths or expressions of the "human spirit." Moreover, the piece both disrupts and depends upon theatrical conventions. For instance, the work "begins" during an intermission on an empty stage with no more than house lighting. Additionally, a lone male costumed like a character from the Honeymooners and stationed at the edge of center stage "dances" to or along with big band jazz pieces. On the other hand, this "beginning," in fact depends on the voyeurism implied by the "fourth wall" premise common to theatrical practices for its impact. For instance, the dancer, oblivious to his whereabouts, moves as if he were dreaming. His motion partly unmoored from sleep's restraint hints of '30's jazz or tap or ballroom dances. Seemingly jointless, the liquid motion of neck and head, hips, torso, shoulders, arms, and wrists betray his private chase- his glossy eyed yearning reverie- to public view. Occasionally, he gestures with a leg, and except for a thin boundary layer, his movements barely ripple the space around him. Connecting the intimacy of the dancer's place in the stage space, the personal nature of the solo, and the 'fourth wall' convention together gives one a sense of Minus 16's aesthetic ethos. Simply, Minus 16, by its blatant exposure, validates the intimate and secret over the public and universal. One imagines, for example, a well-known Faun spending a contemplative afternoon musing upon the thought that, "To be is to be seen--dreaming." Dreaming, the source and the model for the non-pig stuff aesthetic shared by the Faun's ruminations and Minus 16, fuses sight, sound, and action along with the dreamer's feelings into a singular and porteneous event. The Faun and Minus 16, however, feel compelled to publicly broadcast that event as if its opaque meaning were transparent, interesting, and important. In this light, the Faun might re-think the paraphrase of Berkeley to say; "To be is to be seen--masturbating." Unashamedly, the tender offering of the opening solo, the obsessive ferocity delivered by the company to the repetitions of a sung text and the steady challenge to the performer--audience divide bears viewers into a risqué, personal world. Moreover, the retreat into the personal obscures rather than illuminates, if not the meanings of Minus 16 then its intelligibility. Perhaps, then, the dream driven gestures and disruption of conventions worked out in Minus 16 mean to take us somewhere rather than tell us something. If this is so, then Minus 16 went to frenzy and its abandon left this viewer with the hangover.


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Edited by Marie.

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