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Bodies of water Brings Art to All

It was roughly five o’clock on Saturday evening, July 16, and I found myself standing in the unexpected warmth of Seattle’s cloudless sky, pressed against a parking meter by a crowd of curious onlookers. Set against the backdrop of Waterfront Park’s southern edge, a group of jumpsuit-clad dancers had spent the past five minutes forming a semicircle atop the concrete amphitheater, their backs facing the inquisitive audience as they looked out across the water, their arms by their sides. They stood there for an indeterminable period of time. I watched the audience shift restlessly, glance at phones, eye the distant waterfront, and then settle into the stillness.

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Dancer in Gosti’s Bodies of water
Photo by Tim Summers

“What is this? Like a music concert or something?” A stranger had tapped my shoulder from behind, speaking loudly against the traffic behind us. I smiled back at the woman and whispered to her, intentionally elusive, “I’m not sure yet. Looks interesting, though.”

In actuality, I knew far more about the performance than I had let on. Alice Gosti, American-Italian choreographer, dancer, and performance artist, had cultivated one of the most anticipated events of Seattle’s summer dance lineup: a five-hour durational performance titled Bodies of water, in which eight ensemble dancers clad in white jumpsuits, blue socks, and white Keds made their way from the south end of Waterfront Park to the north end in a physical commentary on Seattle’s relationship to its waterways.  Although the ensemble dancers carried the show for nearly all five hours, I’d heard rumor that Bodies of water would also be interspersed with appearances from various music and dance groups, making for an aesthetic and experiential wave between 5:00 and 10:00 pm. Audiences could come for five minutes or five hours. They could stand in one place or move about, watch from fifty yards away or right up close; free and open to the public, the work was an offering, much less a show.

Dancers in Gosti’s Bodies of water
Photo by Robert Wade

Yet here I was thinking I knew exactly what to expect when I turned out to be just as oblivious as the tourists who stumbled into the spectacle on Pier 57. I did not expect seemingly random audience members to emerge on the dock wearing life vests for an almost 90-minute progression of falling, standing, and walking alongside the ensemble dancers. Or for the pink-wigged, foil-wrapped ladies of the Beaconettes à cappella choir to offer a harmonious set that turned out to be just as touching as it was humorous. I certainly didn’t expect 13 more dancers from Velocity’s Strictly Seattle to emerge on a concrete wall, their arms dripping with blue paint from the elbows down for an extended gestural series against the downtown Seattle backdrop. I also didn’t expect dancing in Waterfront Fountain. Or to watch the sun set on Puget Sound while ferryboats docked behind the Great Wheel and some of Seattle’s most sensorial artists improvised atop tables on the dock’s edge, their arms floating about their faces as if caught in gusts of wind. For the dancers to appear so utterly human, to smile at one another, walk, prance, and run amidst unison and improvisatory sequences.

Dancers in Gosti’s Bodies of water
Photo by Robert Wade

The dancers surged from one location to the next, or exited over extended periods only to re-enter the space just as soon as their absence was forgotten, reemerging in entirely new spatial relationships to the audience. The dance evolved constantly: surge after surge, durational progression after durational progression, the audience following the dancers across the water until finally—somehow, suddenly—we were all on the far pier.   The time it took us to walk six hundred feet to felt like five minutes. I did not expect or my body to feel so full. For the flood of thoughts I had as I sat, walked, and stood for five straight hours amidst a growing crowd…

What is my relationship to the dancers? Can I touch them? Can I join the dance? What would happen if I offered that dancer a hand? Would she take it? Is that allowed? What are the rules? Are there rules? Why do I think there are rules? I’m hungry. Is it rude if I eat this protein bar? The show is five hours long, but is it really okay to eat? That seems like a faux pas. I need to pee. Should I feel this guilty for having left to go pee? What if I missed the most important part? Is there a most important part? Are there even parts at all? Or is this whole thing a platitude on the level continuousness of duration? It’s been four hours and I could watch this for another six. Is that normal? Is this real? Am I as alive as I feel? Will I remember this tomorrow? Or will I forget the sound of their breath by the time I walk away?

Sabina Smith-Moreland in Gosti’s Bodies of water
Photo by Robert Wade

Bodies of water was not a performance. It was an experience. Through choreographic diversity—abstraction and literalism—it became a multifarious inquisition into the implications of Seattle’s hydrology network, referencing immigration, Native American fishing rights, and ecology in conjunction with interpersonal solidarity––all of which Gosti discussed in a recent interview with Rich Smith of The Stranger. Bodies of water was a groundbreaking event, exoteric and approachable, offering over 1,000 people of all demographics the chance to observe and interact with their community under the pretext of movement. Strangers spoke with one another, danced with one another, became locked in eye contact for moments at a time, and were united, commonly and collectively, as witnesses to a celebration of Seattle and its art. For the dancers, Bodies of water appeared to offer a meditation on humanness—fortitude and weakness. It was testament to their skill as artists and their mastery of the captivatingly pedestrian, interactive neutrality Gosti asked of them.

Thinking of this impact, I watched the dancers as the sun set over the Sound. My feet were numb, but I didn’t care enough to sit. The performers were in unison now, walking back and forth in lines, patterning, getting faster and faster until I had pressed up against the wood guardrail to avoid being struck. Ten minutes passed. Or maybe 30. A shrill sound echoed over the water and I turned. Then a band was there, in front of us, surrounding us, music emanating from every corner of the sky. The audience surged forward, pulsing around me, united in movement and music, finishing a dance with no end, asking a question with no answer.

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Sabina Smith-Moreland, Kaitlin McCarthy, and Erin Johnson in Gosti’s Bodies of water
Photo by Tim Summers

I watched from above the crowd until I couldn’t remember how long the party had endured. The ferris wheel turned inexorably clockwise, its blue lights cast against an equally interminable tide. The crowd jumped on in a sort of Bacchus trance and I walked away in the dark, hot night, just as the percussionist began striking his drum.

More information about Gosti and her work can be found on her website. Bodies of water was presented by Friends of the Waterfront Seattle and produced by Velocity Dance Center.