Even the seasoned dance viewer rarely sees a work made by 370 people. For his latest project, Parts to a Sum, Mark Haim reached out to individuals he’s met over his life and four-decade career, asking for “5-10 seconds of movement with good intentions” recorded on video. He then compiled the clips in chronological order according to the creator’s birthdate. “I wanted to try to ‘hold’ some of those who have shaped my life, a way to feel my interconnectedness.” Haim writes in the program notes. He didn’t simply collect the movements, however, he memorized all 370 sequences to perform as a mosaic-like tribute to them, us, and humanity.
Haim begins the dances, oldest to youngest, by sitting in a chair. His hands slowly gather the air around him, his head hanging slightly off his spine, as if remembering a distant memory. “1925” displays on the backdrop, and even though the person isn’t physically present, the reverence of such a long life hangs suspended in the audience. This first section of dances carry the magnificent weight of many years lived, and the child-like sweetness that one acquires back over time. Haim stomps his feet, widens his eyes in silly expressions, shouts joyously in Italian. He eats bread while grooving, looks through his hands like a telescope, taps each joint and says “OW.” The movements are fun, jaunty looks into those with wisdom and, as it appears, glorious comfort and freedom in who they are.
From there, we move through the decades: “1950,” “1960,” “1964,” “1970,” and so on, birth years marking our progress on the backdrop. Objects in the space live alongside Haim as place markers: a folded up bicycle, a chunk of bread on a desk. He interacts with each of them, lapping up invisible water from a dog bowl, or rolling across the floor to look at a phone. Although fairly random in aesthetic, the interactions bring joy and curiosity. We’re invited to open up and take in each clip of personality without judgement of how it looks next to the one prior. Their contexts remain a fantastical mystery. While many artists’ vocation is to study composition and make deliberate decisions regarding it, Parts to a Sum proposes that we can find brilliance in the composition of humanity itself, as if looking at a natural landscape.
The vignettes range from presentational to highly internal – big, swooping floor phrases to tiny gestures with hunched shoulders. Each set of moves represents that person, but better yet, maybe it represents what that person means to Haim. As if each person reflected in the moments before pressing record, asked themselves how they could give back a little bit of their light to him. The movements are filled with spirit, and a firmness in intention. In one dance, Haim is given crutches (by performance assistant Nicole Leung), and gently moves his feet. In a single moment, he reminds us that all bodies, regardless of ability, are capable of dance.
Sound assists each section in its quest to help narrate the contributors’ movement – natural, whimsical sounds like birds chirping and wind chimes softly echo during the first act. Later on, pop music hits overlap like a DJ that can’t decide. Prince, The Beatles, Justin Timberlake, and Whitney Houston are just a few voices that remind us that while we’re all different, music connects universally. Smiles spread as Haim does modern dance moves to Jay-Z. Toward the end of the work, a classical piece plays most of the way through, bringing the focus in a little closer.
Haim carries each string of movements with genuine grace and care. With great honor, he treats each one with as much (if not more) dignity as one would their own choreography. Most dancers dream of being the vehicle for that one famous choreographer, the special instrument that will carry out the masterpiece of a great artist. In Parts To A Sum, Haim proclaims that we all form the body of a great artist, and the masterpiece is the sum of our efforts.
Perhaps the most moving part of the work is the end: when Haim’s physical movement overlaps with the playback of the videos, this time youngest to oldest. He bounces along with a video of a toddler for a few moments before leaving stage, and there begins our journey backward through the piece. Finally, we see where the dog bowl came from, who sat in the chair, who rolled across the floor. Why they were in crutches, who ate the basil leaf, which child spun around and said “I spin and open my heart one more time!” From a one-and-a-half-year-old to a ninety-three-year-old, we get to see each face, each expression, each mini story. They live in different contexts – a backyard in winter, livings rooms, kitchens, classrooms, dance studios, offices. Pets or babies crawl around some of the frames. Each clip is a gift reflected back to a central point, a handful of voices from one person’s social web. After watching start to finish, it feels as if we know each one intimately.
Parts to a Sum performed at Velocity Dance Center April 5, 6, 12, & 13, 2019. Find more about the work, including tickets to the second weekend of performances, here.