Dancing Circles Around You

ingri fiksdal, cosmic body @ mca, 6 february 2016 and faye driscoll, thank you for coming @ mca, 13 february 2016.

Faye Driscoll Group, Thank You For Coming: Attendance Photo: Maria Baranova
Faye Driscoll Group, Thank You For Coming: Attendance Photo: Maria Baranova.

The circle kept returning in the very different dance worlds of Ingri Fiksdal’s Cosmic Body and Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming. 

Fiksdal and collaborators drew inspiration from the infamous strobe-light Dreamachine that William Burroughs and Brion Gyson thought could produce visionary insights. In Fiksdal’s piece, things did not only flash, they also spun: dancers, lights, mirrors, fans. The audience sits in a triangle surrounding the stage, taking in the motion. This was a droning, hypnotic piece, a quiet and meditative kind of work in its way, one that sought to pull the exterior into a sort of collective interior zone.

Burroughs Gysin Dreammachine
William Burroughs and Brion Gysin with the Dreamachine.

Sometimes it was so quiet, so interior, I found myself zoning out, but there were also captivating moments. At the start of the work, the dancers let a row of bulbous shapes hanging from ropes loose to swing back and forth. These props suddenly became the dancers and the dancers the props surrounding them. There was a whiff of the perverse and dangerous, maybe even of violence, to the shapes. They also took on a kind of shiny symmetry and slickness, something like the feel of large black plastic garbage bags: beautiful but abandoned, indestructible but headed to the trash heap. We watched the row of objects swing back and forth, past their shadows and through them again, first in line with each other, then slowly falling out of sync into an ever-shifting array of patterns and tempos. It felt kaleidoscopic, fractal, pendulous, loose, and wild, yet the motions assumed a kind of organic organization too. Quietly, without fuss, they swung between order and chaos, as did the dance itself in Cosmic Body.

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Ingri Fiksdal, Cosmic Body. Photo: Antero Hein.

If Ingri Fiksdal’s circles were unfussy, the participatory encircling of Faye Driscoll’s work Thank You For Coming was quite the opposite: extremely fussy. This was a piece that obsessed, in wonderful ways, over the relationship of audience to performers. Again, we were placed on stage with the dance company, this time sitting on the floor. The dancers first appeared on a slightly raised stage as a kind of amoeba-like clump engaged in what a number of commentators have accurately described as a contemporary dance version of the game Twister. The ensemble members took various poses of discomfort that emphasized their individualities becoming subsumed— but never entirely erased—in the need for the group to keep its balance. A foot in the face, a limb stretched over a shoulder, an arm pushed up against a back with not enough room to extend, then twisted around a head. There was a durational element to the first section of the piece: a virtuosic display of abdomen-muscle-straining stillness and intra-group competition constrained by collective coordination.

Faye Driscoll Group, Thank You For Coming: Attendance Photo: Maria Baranova
Faye Driscoll Group, Thank You For Coming: Attendance Photo: Maria Baranova.

The display of virtuosity was never far away from Thank You For Coming. One sensed the power and gifts of the ensemble members right from the start. But suddenly, after the initial section of fascinating, slightly spazzy, slow-motion Twister, a section that repeatedly settled into group positions that were vaguely circular in form, the dancers lied down head to toe and rolled right off the stage. And then they kept rolling. And rolling. Right over the audience members sitting around them—a contemporary dance steamroller.

The dancers played with people’s bracelets as they rolled, took out pairs of glasses from audience members’s pockets, held hands with attendees. This sounds aggressive, and it was, but the skill of the dancers was to also make it friendly, playful, so that one first might feel distrustful, like you were being manipulated or imposed upon (and you were), but the ultimate tone was of being welcomed. You were less steamrolled than body-massaged into the circle of the dance. There was a gentleness, a thankfulness, to the audience participation in Thank You For Coming. The daring and disconcerting breaking of the fourth wall and touching of the audience, not just figuratively, but rather quite literally, was virtuosically inclusive.

Faye Driscoll herself crawled under the stage that the dancers had abandoned and suddenly reemerged, pulling off its cover to reveal the stage itself to be benches for the audience to sit on. As with the pendulum-swinging shapes of Cosmic Body, the props themselves took on a life of their own, the very stage in this case passed from raised platform for performers to seats for audience members.

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Faye Driscoll Group, Thank You For Coming: Attendance Photo: Maria Baranova.

OK, yes, then there was some silly stuff. Dancers being metaphorically birthed out of fabric and clothes slowly coming off the performers in a weird avant-garde strip show (but none removed from audience members). A section of us were asked to wear gold shower caps. Ribbons and a kind of quasi-ring-around-the-Maypole ending of a collective folk circle dance. But before that, the Faye Driscoll group engaged in an extended section of exquisite, weird movement that turned the faux-ease and mock-equality of any kind of audience participation into something more intriguing.

At the heart of Thank You For Coming, this long section of dazzling performance had the dance company members enact various gestures of social connection and alienation (everything from kissing and hugging to getting punched to miscommunication and more). As they did so, they started and stopped like robots, proposing not so much that we embrace the fantasy of easy flow and communal harmony displayed at most audience-participation performances, but rather that we think about the artifice and awkwardness of social experiences, the ways in which intended interior meanings do not always align with their social enactment, the senses in which internal feelings and outward bodily interactions sometimes flow, but just as often fall out of sync. It was brilliant, a moment in which movement took the lead in reminding us that sociality is performative, that community does not just arise naturally out of our internal desires to fit our individuality into perfected wholes, but rather that while often desired and probably necessary, community is also never static: it always must be a bit forced—and enforced. We can get there, but it takes a mix of masterfully fabricated moves and seemingly spontaneous gestures.

Ingri Fiksdal, Cosmic Body Photo © Antero Hein
Ingri Fiksdal, Cosmic Body Photo: Antero Hein.

And so it was fitting that Cosmic Body, like Thank You For Coming, also featured an extended sequence of robotic dance, in which the performers struck poses that synchronized collective accelerations and decelerations of timing with individualized differences in each dancer’s movements. Whether in the on-off flashes of the Dreamachine and swinging, asynchronized pendulums of Cosmic Body, or under the big tent of ribbons and strings raised on pulleys by audience members at the conclusion of Thank You For Coming, the circle of dance had to be created, not naturally, but rather out of assertions of its worthiness as a demarcation of belonging that also, in these thoughtful works, registered the artifice that goes into establishing communities of participation. Community, individuality, like dance itself, does not just appear; it must get virtuosically made.

Ingrid Fiksdal, Cosmic Body.

Faye Driscoll Group, Thank You For Coming.

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