Hug It Out

carole mccurdy, waver @ defibrillator gallery, saturday, 23 september 2017.

Waver is a dance project about how we hold and are held, how we go when we let go. …Holding another body—transforming sensuality into full feeling—can be comforting and easy or awkward and scary. Can an embrace go beyond freedom, beyond constraint?

— Carole McCurdy

There was something bent about Waver, yet its corruptions, its wavering, its bendings, of form, led to a quality straight and true. Inspired by an unusual pairing—butoh and tango—Carole McCurdy’s piece was too weird, too off, to be appropriative. Instead, Waver tilted those traditions sidelong into something askance to them.

At the edges of classic forms, Waver suggested, we can be reminded of their core aspects. Waver never pursued butoh or tango to their essences—no dramatic white makeup or close couple dancing here. Instead, we sensed the power of those genres of dance from their negative space. The margin became the center, the shadows spotlighted. Letting go of the forms offered a way to hold on to them. Purposefully aiming for the edges, Waver hit the mark.

The first part of Waver, “Land Sickness,” began with Eli Halpern in a modern-day hipster version of butoh garb. He speaks words that are garbled, sipping from a water backpack straw in between throaty growls and chirps. He chants and shakes. He is still. Putting on large wooden clogs—platform boots for the barefoot set—he circles the audience, eyeing them, something in between a herald of serious things to come and a jokester with a twinkle in his eye. A series of almost solos, duets, and ensemble interactions follow among dancers Geoff Guy, Irene Hsiao, Harlan Rosen, Pamela Strateman, and M Wu. McCurdy herself appears as a kind of Tiresias figure, or is she Athena, blindfolded and walking with a stick? The associations with her character proliferate as she feels her way toward the other dancers while unable to see them. She almost gets tormented, she is taken care of by them.

In the second half of Waver, “How Much I Need You,” there are further sequences of connection and alienation among the dancers. They vibrate with energy. They are still. They lie down. They coordinate activity only to break off into solos. The projection lighting, designed by Francesca Talenti, suddenly spreads down from the wall to the floor, op-art bars of black-and-white wavering across similarly designed costumes. We might understand the proceedings as possessing both butoh’s solo intensities of individual angst and tango’s duets of passionate give and take.

Irene Hsiao, Carole McCurdy, M Wu, and Pamela Strateman in Waver. Photo: Kirstie Shanley.

But Waver was more than just a dance about dance. When its performers ended the work with a long section of almost-hugging, Waver probed a fuller sense of what intimacy can entail. They questioned what it means to embrace. Arranged in the couple form of tango, they pursued the meaning of this core human gesture with butoh-like focus. Deconstructing the hug, analyzing it, separating it into constituent parts, testing it, McCurdy and collaborators offered what I would describe as the movement next to the movements of the hug. They hugged the hug goodbye, but never quite let it go either.

Let us acquaint ourself with the hug. It causes a quiver, a waver. We savor it. It encircles. Clutching, it can constrain. But it also energizes, charges one with support and connection. We all need someone to lean on, but the point of a hug is to eventually let go. That is the fate of all hugs. They are ultimately meant to be held only in memory.

In addressing these paradoxes by wavering from the straightforward approach, McCurdy and her collaborators pursued uncertainty with accuracy, they forcefully examined hesitation. Moving away from the hug without entirely rejecting it, never entering into a full embrace but never quite letting go, a revelatory fullness of feeling emerged in—and beyond—the gaps created.

Waver not only made me think about what it means to waver as a verb, but also as a noun, as in a person who waves. From a distance, you don’t quite know if they are trying to say hello or goodbye. You are just seized for a moment, in the moment.

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