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Art is Alive: Experimentation with Daniel Linehan

Daniel Linehan
Photo by Joseph Lambert

As part of the Guest Artist Series and as opener to the Fall 2013 season, Velocity Dance Center presented The Karaoke Dialogues: Seattle Trial and Not About Everything, two works by Daniel Linehan. In a touching introduction, Velocity Director Tonya Lockyer welcomed the Olympia-born and University of Washington graduate, noting Linehan’s international performance and choreographic credits. While Not About Everything first premiered in 2007, Linehan used a week-long residency at Velocity to workshop The Karaoke Dialogues with seven local dance artists, a process that will also take place in Belgium and France before premiering next May in Lille, France.

Despite in-progress workshop status, Dialogues revealed a richly imagined landscape at the intersection of verbal and visual communication. The work began with splintered images of digitized alphanumerics projected onto the back curtain accompanied by a soundtrack of spliced vocalizations, creating a gently hypnotic dance without physical performers. Dancers rose from their seated arrangement within the audience to start the second section: a recitation of snippets from Don Quixote, spoken word matched to mimetic gesture, text projected on the back curtain. In the third section, a trio of dancers stood center stage to narrate further lines from literature, words and projected text creating the “dance” without physical movement. A cacophony of words cascaded as dancers spoke over one another, metaphorically and aptly referred to as “stepping on another’s lines.” In a duet, Linehan eschewed narration and text, allowing the dancers’ gestures to be suggestion of words, as if the soundtrack was but momentarily silenced.As the work advanced with subtly relentless intensity, the shapes of the dancers’ bodies and the shapes of the sounds and letters began to merge, fusing visual and auditory input. Linehan’s progression through the sections in Dialogues maintained this balance between words, writing, and movement, seamlessly flowing from one through the next. Linehan transformed the fragmented literary excerpts into minimalist poetry with e. e. cummings-like precision. Negative space around dancers’ bodies framed matching silences and stillness. In the last section, Linehan even transcended speech, dancers clapping in syllabic rhythm to replace words. A beautifully choreographed graphic novel, The Karaoke Dialogues juxtaposed sense and nonsense, divorced meaning from communication, and playfully echoed a human longing for comprehension and connection.

Daniel Linehan’s The Karaoke Dialogues: Seattle Trial
Photo by Joseph Lambert

For Not About Everything, the audience was shifted to a circular arrangement about the space, an invitation to be closer to and confine the space around solo performer Linehan. A circle of textual materials further restricted the performance space. Linehan stepped into the circle, his mere presence enough to hush the audience without a lighting change. Choreographically, Not About Everything involved spinning for half an hour. Repetitive? Yes. However, Linehan never came close to monotony. Tempi varied, spinning beginning slowly and eventually speeding toward dervish momentum. This dance was one of understated endurance, the physical aspect of prolonged spin a constant undercurrent yet never overwhelming.

As he spun, Linehan verbalized—syllables, words, phrases, and sentences were synchronized to a spoken soundtrack. The titular phrase “this is not about anything” was repeated, broken down, and presented in all possible meanings throughout the work. A long litany of what Not About Everything was NOT about included declamations against endurance, war, religion, and even nausea. This protest against meaning in the work seemed to follow and almost anticipate the audience’s search for significance, and as the list grew ever longer, the meaning of what the work was about became clear. Within the spinning circle, Linehan was reaching toward universal relevance in art, deliberately juxtaposing the title with the purpose.

Daniel Linehan in Not About Everything Photo by Joseph Lambert
Daniel Linehan in Not About Everything
Photo by Joseph Lambert

The repetitive spinning in Not About Everything evoked images of the sacrificial character in The Rite of Spring, but this time, the artist was the offering. This vulnerability of the artist was evident throughout, especially as Linehan read a personal letter questioning his work as choreographer both in relation to this work and overall consequence to the world. Addressing his own stated question of significance to the larger world, Linehan signed an Amnesty International petition mid-spin, passing the sealed stamped envelope to an audience member with instructions to mail following the performance. At the end of the dance, Linehan slowly came to a stop and exited the circle to perform a short solo, the most danced section of the entire evening. His fluidity seemed purposefully defiant of the previous frantic spinning (as did the brief duration of this last interlude).

Although billed as experimental dance, Linehan’s works flowed elegantly between modern dance and performance art. Linehan’s delightfully cerebral creations celebrated language and meaning, caressing sounds through the choreography. With plush, velvety nuance, The Karaoke Dialogues and Not About Everything addressed current societal tensions in a speedy technological age. Linehan’s choreography deftly wove his vision through a multiplicity of performance mediums. Like well-crafted novels, each work spun an individual tale, humorous and hopeful, a physical journey through meaningful artistic creation.

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