Monthly Archives: February 2012

Looking in on Staibdance’s “Name Day”

As I walked into Emory’s Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts, dancers were already sitting in chairs downstage facing the audience. As the audience continued to filter in, other performers continued to fill the entire downstage line. The dancers began a series of gestures, inviting or implicating us into this lexicon. One male dancer remained onstage continuing the gestures with rapid succession and adding mundane gestures that became comical as he moved his chair upstage.

This introduction set the feeling of the entire evening.  Vacillating between the familiar and the whimsical, the modern and folkloric; one is transported to a place that is neither here-nor- there. When I think folk arts, I think of belonging and recognition. “Folk artists, in the past as much as now, made objects that created a kind of belonging, and the objects themselves, in time, came to belong. Here is a pot: you use it every morning to brew your coffee, it belongs in your house, it belongs in the houses of people here. Even its design is something recognizable, it is a part of what is life here in _________. This is a pot from ___________, it is our and yours and mine of we who live in ______________. You have one that looks like mine because we are both from _____________.”

When I think of modernity, I think the objects become a pastiche of themselves. The objects no longer are from anywhere, but have the unique character of just existing. They have no history and might not have a future. They are common, mundane, and ordinary, and are in every other house all over the world.

When you mix the two you have George Staib’s Name Day. An autobiographical dance, and according to an interview in Creative Loafing,

“Staib’s American father met his Armenian mother when he was stationed in Iran with the military. Staib lived in Iran until he was 10, when his family returned to the States. “Wherever we lived, there was always this blending of American culture and Armenian tradition,” he says. ‘We tried to cling to both.’ ”

I found myself part anthropologist and part audience member. I felt myself striving to recognize and to remember (as if I shared a common history.) Staib’s vocabulary is prolific with percussive gestures, which often turn violent, and there are surprisingly rich qualitative shifts in the movement.

The dance was divided into two parts: “Through the Window” and “From Inside.” I wanted them to be more integrated. If any medium can do this, it is dance.

In the first half, as promised in Creative Loafing, Helen Hale’s performance was one of the highlights of the evening. Her voice both whispered in your ear and seemed distant all at once. With dancers clothed in black, pensively moving on stage, one could feel the vespers rising from the floorboards. With careful steps,one felt a consciousness closely tied to the steps taken in a pilgrimage.

I would be remiss not to mention the “Thou shall..” section. Witty, easily lovable, with stereotypes of Jewish parents’ thoughts exposed, it transitioned seamlessly into the dancers lip syncing.

Finally in the last section, one could not help but see the influence of  Ohad Naharin. Is it the formula that makes the dance exciting? Chairs in a circle, percussive gestures, circling motifs, chanting, a stage filled with dancers, really, what’s not to love?

As much as I wanted the second half, “From the Inside,” to be more integrated into the first half, I felt the beginning duet shadowed and almost carried you into the section marked by the rituals of death. Even though I initially did not understand the text’s subject, one felt the passing of time. This was accentuated by Claire Molla’s sinuous solo. Interestingly I thought of zygotes, instead of death. Perhaps this was my subconscious recognizing the cycle of birth and death.

Though we can point to aesthetics that arise from different regions, and though we can trace training and influence topographically, we cannot integrate dance into the everyday lives of people the way that the pot can be integrated. Yet we can save dance for those special times, perhaps this is one of them.

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Rambling on about Joe Goode’s “The Rambler”

To dance is to ramble. Perhaps that should have been one of the introductory poems of the evening, however trite it might sound here. This traveling tableau of dance depicted the emotions, investments, and mythologies of what it means to ramble. The side and top curtains moved to frame the dance, creating an illusion of traveling through time and distance. In a way, the dance in and of itself rambled. It began sentences, started investing in ideas, and then left before one could really connect with them. Various themes were explored: the Rambler, the politics and desires of the Rambler, sexual ramblings, and the people who were left behind. Luckily they were strung together by a melody of song well performed.

The anticipation of rambling was caught at the very beginning of the piece with a kinetic energy of swiftly rubbing the hands together as one dancer talked of rambling in terms of “awesome” and “tight.” Generic terms placed to begin the generic vacation,  which often adequately describes our longing for the ritual of change. He practically packed up another male dancer and away they went. The duet was expansive, risky, and joyful. It reminded us of the journey we are embarking on as an audience member, and had the hope that we will return somehow changed. The two lifted one another with an ease and gracefulness that had a feeling of contact improvisation, but was more defined through space. Actually, overall the dance carved and delineated space with such accuracy that as an audience participant, I felt the palpable inauthenticity of embodied rambling. I wanted to see the body take tangents of unexplored space- perhaps forgetting the talking mind.

So, who is The Rambler? Goode began portraying the role as a Clint Eastwood throwback, including the cliché poncho and sombrero. It was precisely through the costume changing that one knew The Rambler. First Goode played the role, then a male dancer, and then was finally played by an African-American woman. In Goode’s role he addressed the romantic notions of the rambler’s ideas on freedom by singing about it. Who would have guessed that Joe Goode sounds like Willie Nelson?

Next, a male dancer played the role and was always seen leaving. He never stayed quite long enough to see him. He somewhat flippantly explored interesting questions of what it means to go, of why he is propelled to leave, and how he embraces embodiment as a means to feel, see, and to stay in the moment. Framed very tightly with the curtains, he seemed small and vulnerable. He had been stripped of any props, costumes (in just black pants), and of a rambler’s ego. The rambler is the iconic, silent, mysterious, white American male who shows up at the right times and then slips away. Here he speaks of how he feels, as if he is picking at the scab of The Rambler, but never really exposing it to air. Ripping it off might invoke certain questions such as: How is the modern rambler or traveler different from the iconic Clint Eastwood? Is there a difference between rambling and homelessness? Is it truly rambling if it is purposeful- i.e. for ideas of “freedom?” Is habit inherently numbing? It seems as if The Rambler would become numb to rambling, and perhaps be more alive, embodied, when stationary.

The last woman added a twist to the demographic of The Rambler, yet she never actually rambled… except to work. She spoke to the idea that women, because of their ‘inherent’ reliability took the kids to school, worked, and picked them up again and could never really ramble anywhere.  As she spoke, she danced with two male dancers in a chair trio that seamlessly triangulated the space. The chairs became the minivans of non- rambling African-American women.

Somewhat misplaced, with that contrived humor I often associate with Pilobolus style antics, was a short vignette about sexual ramblings. It opened as one male draped in white began speaking in a female voice. As the curtain exposed more high space another man sat on top of him, and finally a woman was exposed sitting at the very top of this Renaissance image of a somewhat angelic nature. However puritan the scene evinced, the woman sang with a French accent, a jazz song about promiscuity.

Finally we are left with the woman who is left behind. She sat behind a table, painted in all white, and was a watered down version of herself. She identified herself as a person without. She reprised three times during the show, marking a time-lapse. The last time she appeared with a mannequin or sculpture, created by Basil Twist, sitting on her lap masking her. It looked as if one arm and leg had become the puppet. One could feel the loss of movement in the limbs, as if one becomes petrified in time, relying on memories of who they  once were. Unfortunately this segment was so short that the poignancy was almost lost.

The dance dissolved, just as one who rambles might dissolve, and one is left with only echoes.