Summation Dance’s Dancing Literate at St. Marks Church was created to answer one of the biggest struggles of modern dance choreographers: how to bridge the gap between society and modern dance while introducing both new and present dance audiences to new information.
Laura Diefenderfer opened the night appropriately as such by exposing us to the tools commonly used by choreographers to make a dance, enabling audiences less familiar with the craft to better understand the mechanism behind it.
The first piece, Splinters in Your Mind, by Summation Dance co-artistic director Taryn Vander Hoop, was a strong “slap in the face” type opener. It involved six incredibly talented female dancers, all dressed in tight black unitards, storming onto the stage like superwomen. Set to helicopter-like sounds, the piece opened with a solo and four dancers in line on the side. The end of the solo initiated a group dance, which was characterized by symmetry, rounded arms, constant level change, extensive floorwork- almost martial arts inspired dance.
With constant changes in the group dynamics, the audience members were left completely on our toes. Though I wasn’t able to actually pinpoint a specific meaning for this work due to the overwhelming use of technique over any sort of story line or human connection, there is something to be said for dance for the sake of dance, especially for the opening piece of the evening. Vander Hoop spoon fed us with strong and stunning acrobatic, almost martial-arts like movement.
The second piece, an excerpt of ReVUE by Sidra Bell stood out to me in a way that prevents comparison to other work I have seen. Bell’s use of a cabaret-like structure, as one of her dancers explained at the end, transcended the limitations of the traditional performance space and enabled it to be taken anywhere, from a theater to a house party.
Structured in four vignettes–including a highly technical contemporary tango shared by two men (one of them being in red high heels), a divine almost butoh-like female solo, a duet involving flashlights, blazers, nude breasts, and a group section with a vogueing inspired sequence led by a cabaret host–the work forced us to challenge our preconceptions of gender roles in dance and directly related the practice of dance to a manipulation of the body. By watching ReVUE, we were forced to admit a discomfort that can arise from watching dance, when we begin thinking about our relationship to our bodies and to other people’s bodies.
Suzanne Beahrs’ piece, Amid, followed ReVUE shifted the mood of the program. Spectral dancers with tight buns and flowy pants began a pristine phrase to silence. In a liquid quality they turned, jumped, dived into floor work, taking flight and landing without producing a sound. Choir music then started playing which added to the drama and seemed to make this work an ode to dance, the body as an instrument. Divine and almost angel-like, the dancers did not stand out as individuals. Every dancer’s action was anchored into the collective movement and only through an accumulation of individual actions did it become ethereal.
Beahrs explained at the post performance talk-back that the piece was about mortality and about conveying the idea of dance as a meaning of life. The work ended with a solo from the dancer who initiated the work, but once again, her solo did not single her out, she just seemed to be the vessel in charge of bringing the group to a resting state.
As a finale, Summation Dance came back for their most exciting work of the evening, Updating Route, Please Standby.
Taking us by surprise, they started in silence running in place and then constantly shifted in smaller group structures, which echoed one another in the work. Through identical repetitions of rounded arms, suspensions, and really strong floor work, the dancers made us wonder if they were embodying the same person versus a collective of people, regardless of how diverse the group is physically.
Choreographically speaking Clement constantly changed the nature of each group by diversifying level changes and the quality of movement (soft versus sharp), it was quite hard to figure out who to keep our eyes on. She thus wrapped up the evening with an exciting, almost electric work of art that really made a statement as to the physical strength of women and defied our ideas of traditional partner work.
In the course of the evening, Summation Dance made a statement not only as strong choreographers but also as great dance advocates. I hope that more initiatives to make dance more literate and diversify dance audiences will be made in the future.