We talk about identity all the time, and in all kinds of ways. There are identity politics, enhanced IDs, gender identities, electronic identities… From DNA sequencing to sockpuppets, we care about who we are, or who we seem to be. And the three artists who made the dances for “This, That, & the Other” at Velocity Dance Center last month have spent their time and energy exploring their options and clarifying their points of view about just who they are.
Like many dancers, Liz Houlton has charted her aesthetic family tree. In Ripple, Pirate, Run she calls out those influences as her cast lopes through material that lists a roll call of early 21st century styles. She seems to be on a first name basis with Crystal (Pite) and Pina (Bausch), among other familiar artists, and her kinetic material does bring some of those works to mind. Dance is a discipline that’s full of imitation – from the beginning of training we work in a group, copying the person standing alone at the front of the room. Houlton has learned those lessons well – her movement choices and her craft reflect the dance world we see around us. The next step is to find the work that represents herself.
In ()ELP, Alyza DelPan-Monley organizes the space, the audience, and everything else in the theater exactly as she wants them, creating a little nest out of blankets downstage left, stashing a grocery sack full of props on stage right, enlisting part of the audience to hold her tools, and help her adjust her costume. In her world, there doesn’t seem to be a fourth wall (between the performer and the audience) at all – we’re all along for the ride. Her solo is full of whimsical moments, most of them intentional. The work is highly eccentric, her performance skipping from image to image, leaving the audience with a kind of photo album from an alternative world, full of unusual sweetness.
Like his colleagues on this program, Elby Brosch has been doing the hard work of learning to make dances by making them – presenting them in public, and seeing what happens. With each new work, his approach has been a bit more sure and distinctive. In Implied Forever, the choreographer seems to be literally identifying the individual elements of his own style, whispering his name into his limbs as he lays out his movement choices. Working in “a solo on two bodies” with Shane Donohue, the artists establish a gentle give and take that appears to be the main subject of the work until Brosch declares, “I wish I were Matt Drews,” and the tone of the work pivots to a lighthearted yearning. Coming next to a sequence where Brosch has passed underneath Donohue’s outstretched arm, what started as pure movement exploration takes on a more comic interpretation, a kind of Mutt and Jeff, tall and small essay. The two of them continue with this new tangent, as Brosch declares a wish to dance like the equally lanky Jody Kuhener, and then the work takes yet another turn, coming back to the place where they each present themselves as they are, not who they might want to be in another lifetime. The work ends in stillness, with all of us listening to Paul Simon’s “For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her,” a choice that was both unexpected and deeply moving.
In dance, we learn someone else’s choices before we begin making our own, but one of the foundational ideas of the art form is that eventually, you dance who you are. You come of age as a choreographer when you start making your own decisions. The three dancemakers on this program are well on their way to that milestone.
This, That, & the Other performed at Velocity Dance Center May 5 & 6, 2017.