Intimate Evening at Out to Dance

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A tiny room with a staircase descending through the performing space is not everyone’s idea of the perfect venue for dance. Yet Out To Dance, a program curated and presented by Gay City Arts in their Calamus Auditorium, is the perfect show to see in a venue where the audience is at most a dozen feet from the performance space. The deftly-paired works—one by Becca Blackwell and Grace Carmack, one by Jim Kent and Dylan Ward—explore intimate relationships, and more effectively so for the audience not being able to distance themselves from the experience.

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Grace Carmack and Becca Blackwell in the other side of silence
Photo by Robert Roth

As the lights came up on Blackwell and Carmack in the other side of silence, Carmack stepped forward to pick up an autumn leaf, and declared, “This is a leaf.” Blackwell awakened into movement around her, and Carmack continued in a clear, matter-of-fact voice, describing an ordinary day interrupted by the glorious blaze of color of this leaf. She turned the contemplation of its beauty on its head as she pointed out that the moment of greatest color and vividness for the leaf is inextricably tied to the moment of its death. “This is how a leaf dies; steeped in color.”

As she spoke, Carmack was mostly still, facing straight to the audience, looking out at them, tension held in her body. In contrast, Blackwell swooped, swirled, and spiraled her way through space with delicious three-dimensionality, eyes closed, in a reverie of her own internal experience. It seemed almost like an invasion to stare too intently at Blackwell’s private rapture. This led to a fascinating reversal wherein I found myself watching the subtle dance of tension across Carmack’s muscles as she spoke, and listening to the expressive exhales, footfalls, and swooshing slides of Blackwell’s dancing.

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Grace Carmack and Becca Blackwell in the other side of silence
Photo by Robert Roth

From the leaf, Carmack shifted to vignettes of living with the collapse of a relationship. Sometimes distraught, sometimes wryly funny, both her subject matter and the rhythm, alliteration, and consonance of her voice provided the music through which Blackwell danced. Eventually words failed, and Carmack joined Blackwell in a duet. They traded weight-sharing tenderly, and extended through balletic lines, but these moments of trust and harmony were also interrupted by Carmack scrambling harshly back, seeking escape or distance up the stairs.

They finished trading lines of text back and forth. Without being over-the-top obvious, they planted the seeds of the idea that, like the leaf, they find the birth of vividness and beauty in themselves through the death of other parts of themselves and their lives. That, indeed, to experience any growth and glory also means embracing loss and pain: “love is peace and love is grief.”

While Blackwell and Carmack explored concepts of interpersonal relationships in simultaneous text and dance, Kent and Ward’s interpersonal dancing in Dogged explored the portrayal of a particular relationship, its rough patches and its easy intimacy.

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Jim Kent and Dylan Ward in Dogged
Photo by Robert Roth

They established their relationship in a number of ways. The audience tensed up as playful wrestling lost its spirited fun. Repeated unison dance phrases seemed to reveal an almost telepathic connection, so in sync with each other were they. But then Kent broke off to correct how Ward’s fingers dripped downwards, asking for the shape to be “more wet…you’re giving me oil, it needs to be more wet.” As Kent’s corrections grew more querulous and arcane, Ward’s tension and constrained forbearance grew, showing the sort of irritation that is only caused by a person close to you.

The many unison dance phrases throughout Dogged not only revealed connection or irritation, but also their individual differences. Movement flowed from Kent like liquid gold, while in the same phrase Ward brought out the movement’s muscularity and edges. A slight tilt of the head or shape of the hand highlighted contrasts in their personalities that complemented each other’s dancing.

In one tender section, Kent ascended the stairs, picked up a ukulele, and serenaded Ward with “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Ward lay stretched out on the floor below him, gazing up, and joining in, the two of them singing in two-part harmony. This came on the heels of a strangely endearing discussion of being caught in the act with computer porn, where they sat shoulder-to-shoulder on the stairs, comfortable enough to laugh together as they shared embarrassing, intimate memories.

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Jim Kent and Dylan Ward in Dogged
Photo by Robert Roth

Yet this ease couldn’t last forever—they tried partnering each other, and the grace of their dancing and shared private moments disappeared. They grunted with the weight of each other, and grappled awkwardly. One unsuccessful effort prompted Ward to say, “Hey Jim, let’s try that again.” They insisted that they could do it in tones that were more aspirational than confident. And in perhaps the perfect ending, as the lights came up for their bows, they turned bashful, each wanting the other to step forward to bow.

Both works on the program stood strongly on their own, but were enriched by being seen together. With their similarities—exploring relationships, integration of text and dance—they were a beautiful example of how many different perspectives dance can provide. The small space, though somewhat limiting, also created an intimacy between audience and performers that was perfect for the subject matter. Out To Dance plays for one more weekend, (it continues April 16-19) and would be a lovely, thought-provoking way to spend the evening.

Tickets for Out To Dance can be purchased here.