HEATHER KRAVAS CREATES INTIMACY WITH VISIONS OF BEAUTY

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In visions of beauty, Heather Kravas invites the audience to witness her “love affair with minimalism.” The work, by turns meditative, visceral, and kinesthetic, rejects narrative and the theatrical in favor of creating content through a pure expression of physicality. Program notes by Jenn Joy mention a complex relationship between the individual and the collective, brought out by explorations of unison and division. Throughout the 70-minute work, I was continually struck by reflections of intimacy, both among the performers and between the performers and the audience.

Photo ©OntheBoards.tv
Photo ©OntheBoards.tv

Kravas’s work, performed on March 31 at On the Boards, began with the nine dancers casually entering a austere stage space and laying in an X formation for a duration set by a kitchen timer ticking loudly onstage. This inactive opening served to prepare the viewer for the durational work, slowed the mind, and perhaps worked toward increasing attention spans tightened by habitual smartphone usage. The timer dinged, signaling the next section, where dancers shed their pants in favor of underwear and formed a multi-bodied caterpillar design that reached from stage left toward the opposite wall, as live piano by Avi Lasser sounded from a distance. Like a conveyor belt, the dancers gradually progressed forward, climbing over and supporting each other from beneath in acrobatic yoga positions. The dancers performed these lifts and falls with a certain dignity, without acknowledging the close proximity of faces to crotches, even as such positions stretched on for minutes. This presence, along with the matter-of-fact way the dancers executed little hops in grand plie à la seconde when the caterpillar suddenly shifted, reflected Kravas’s undramatic aesthetic, in which the dancers performed each direction, task, or choreographed element with realistic effort and intention.

 

One way Kravas creates intimacy is through vulnerability, here quite literally by exposing the private parts of the dancers. In the next section, the nine fully nude dancers stretched their arms out wide, ran, and spun each other in pinwheels to a peppy, exciting rock song. The performers’ faces ranged from pleasant smiles to laughter, as each person expressed exactly the amount of fun they were having, nothing more and nothing less. Some audience members laughed along, perhaps echoing the dancers’ moods or perhaps out of discomfort and surprise at the uncommon sight of unabashedly naked bodies running and swinging onstage. This high-energy section all too quickly gave way to another pensive segment in which the dancers executed an eyes-closed group formation, holding hands and pressing their bodies together in a swirl. The cast slowly unwound, creating a new sense of intimacy with this trust exercise that was supervised by one open-eyed dancer, who made sure no one knocked into the viewers sitting in the front row. The closeness of the dancers’ nude bodies resulted in more nervous titters of laughter. Other audience members shifted in their seats and stared, as if wondering whether giggling was an allowed or an appropriate response.

Photo ©OntheBoards.tv
Photo ©OntheBoards.tv

The final section of the work featured repetitive lunging from side to side, which Kravas calls “switchbacks.” With each repetition, the action shifted almost imperceptibly,  developing fascinating differences only observable over time. Groups, couples, and trios interacted, crept piecemeal across the stage, and evolved into battling tempos and rhythms. Minutes later, what had begun as simple lunges had developed into jumps and kicks. As the relentless repetition continued, the sounds of the dancers breathing and the soft rasp of their feet on the floor provided a soundscape. In a way subversive to classical modes, the performers did not mask the difficulty of the score. This showing of the effort created a sense of honesty in performative intention, as if striving to reveal the authentic or the real. The switchbacks finally came to a satisfying resolution when the dancers eventually fell back into unison one at a time. Kravas’s measured speed enabled the audience to predict this outcome, releasing tension in a rewarding way as if to say, You earned it.

 

visions of beauty concluded gradually, with the dancers remaining onstage, on relevé, even after the work was over. The audience applauded numerous times, unsure whether or not they were allowed to leave. Some viewers shouted their encouragement at the dancers who remained precariously balancing on their toes, while I personally worried that the dancers themselves might not be allowed to exit until the audience had cleared the theater. Eventually, Kravas stood up and took a bow, conspicuously signaling that the piece was over.

Clearly, Kravas had intended this uncertainty, even while earlier revealing some aspects of the score. The work’s minimalism challenged the audience, creating a relationship between performer and viewer and engendering interaction. Kravas’s ponderous pace and repetitive score left room for me to interest myself by trying to figure out which parts of the work were improvised, which were set, and exactly what rules the dancers might be following. This mental exercise may be New Dance’s answer to the question of narrative content. Kravas’s entirely pared-down work set out to and accomplished only what can be accomplished by dance as bodies in motion, subverting traditional symbolism in favor of abstraction. Rather than eliminating content, however, visions of beauty provides the refreshing space for viewers to be inspired and reflect upon their own musings.

 

More information on Heather Kravas can be found HERE.