dancing private enterprise into the public good: the seldoms, stupormarket (excerpt) & julieann graham, you may think i don’t know you @ other dance festival, hamlin fieldhouse, 22 September 2011.
The Seldoms’ stunning excerpt from their piece about the current economic crisis demonstrated how when it comes to social commentary, contemporary dance can be as powerful as an op-ed piece in the newspaper. Dance can be even more powerful for its evocations of both the individual corporeal experience of this anxiety-filled historical moment and the social dimensions of the recession. At first, the dancers attempted to bid up various gestures in a kind of sardonic contemporary choreography free market. They announced the price of various gestures: nose scratch, booty shake, Merce, Fosse, extra-jazzy Fosse. They would pat each other on the back, or pat their own backs, announcing, “Nice job, pal.” Then the dancers blew up chewing gum to make bubbles (get it?). Pop. Finally, they wound up sitting in fetal positions, counting the number of Americans losing their jobs at any one moment. It was preposterous, playful, and, in the end, chilling for its communication of a kind of shock. Are things really this bad? Why is this happening to me? Is there anybody else out there? And most of all, what are the other kinds of social relations that lurk both in the neoliberal “free” market and beyond or outside it?
You would think that JulieAnn Graham’s deeply meditative, intimate performance, with its trio of dancers who stared into, and eventually burst through, a mirror frame, would follow jarringly on the public focus of the Seldoms. But the juxtaposition worked quite well. We moved from the economic recession to recessions deep into the self, from interactions among market participants to private spaces of introspection, from images of distopia and loss in the current financial trauma to the heterotopia of what might be found in the mirror image. In Graham’s piece, three dancers folded and curled around each other—three women or three selves of one woman?—to the clarinet playing of James Falzone, who paced around the stage barefoot, the dancers oblivious to his physical presence but responding to his song. There was a playfulness here too, a tumbling and twisting of dancers around each other. But the mood was far more warm, more interested in going inside the self, more curious about personal enlightenment than in bringing to light the effects of the exterior marketplace.
Public sphere, private sphere; market floor, bedroom mirror; cold, warm; shocking, soothing; the self and the other and sometimes even the self in others (as in the Seldoms’ performance) or others in the self (in Graham’s piece). These two performances showed how dance can offer an awareness of both the individual body and the social body. And they revealed the multiple dimensions through which personal and public intersect.