March 9, 2009

Dancing the Night Away

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In the world of Glory and Rue: Street Dances, an imaginary bus rolls across the landscape. Dancers take their places in it: some reading, others texting. The girl at the end of the bus makes her way to the front, followed in sequence by others, who in turn are followed by others. Thus carried forward by the breathtaking, concentrated energy of its passengers, this bus sweeps across the stage like a wave. From the opposite direction, another bus approaches and passes it. It is a brief but serendipitous encounter. Prosaic, but extraordinary.
Staged at the Schwartz Center for the Performing Arts last weekend by the Department of Theater, Film and Dance, Glory and Rue was an exploration of that chance moment when strangers on the street collide and come together.
While predictable street scenes and everyday motions found their way into dance, the familiar also became amplified, strange and magical. As video footage of students walking through the Cornell campus and scenes of the Ithaca Farmer’s Market and Collegetown Bagels glimmered in the background, dancers twirled, leapt and collided.
In the interweaving of “real life” and “dance,” one became conscious that a day on any street is a repertory of dance. Whether walking to class late in sweats or clunking through snow in Uggs, we are on show, watched by others and joined in by others. It’s a unique kind of Ithaca glamor.
In the first movements, the dancers, speaking with their bodies in their own solipsistic ways, seemed to occupy separate universes. Slowly, the dancers grew less protective of their own personal spaces, and began to respond to each other: falling to the ground next to another, weaving between other dancers, leaving the stage with an unexpected sidelong look.
Familiar lives and characters unfolded before the audience: the narcissist, making joyful and gigantic leaps; the anxious mother, pacing about like a lioness in a cage. Yet a more violent, primordial electricity pierced the immediate and the familiar. The flowing chords of a harp gave way to a discordant static. Bodies lashed out at one another; some were lifted up and carried off by a procession, as though an elaborately orchestrated ritualistic sacrifice was taking place. As the dancers converged on one another in a dizzying flurry of black, white, grey and stripes, the stage began to resemble a herd in disarray.
The second half of the show was a playful demonstration of how art is a form of invention. Dressed in bright and kitschy colors, dancers tossed one another about and moved one another around like Lego blocks. A trio, in a cheeky parody of the three Muses, twitched their hips to the beat of the music in a way that hilariously combined seductiveness and mechanical repetitiveness.
In one piece, dancers did swings and twitches that grotesquely demonstrated how hinge-like our limbs are — even while executing smooth, sweeping movements with the rest of their body. What was revealed was the oddness of having a body that is machine-like as well as a source of so much fluidity, a body that is both raw material for building cities as well as a temperamental, rebellious thing that refuses to meld in with the urban landscape.
In one dance, a joyful celebration of sloth, dancers lay on the ground like beached whales, grudgingly obliging the other dancers who yelled at them to “stand up” with half-hearted kicks.
When two little bridges miraculously sprouted out from a deliberately haphazard tangle of limbs and arms, the unfinished look of this attempted feat of human genius was hilarious and touching. It offered an important lesson: a city needs to leave room for error. Perhaps it is precisely the creative mistakes that give a city an identity that is loved and felt for by its community.
The spirit of improvisation was alive as dancers got an imaginary ball rolling in one piece, shouting out words that fed and grew upon one another, and were punctuated by leaps and jumps.
And if the choreography in Glory and Rue documented the diversity and inclusiveness of public spaces, break dancing performances by student dance groups Absolute Zero and Impact Dance Troupe before the show were an affirmation of the dance community in Cornell.
Perhaps the ideal city, despite its emphasis on building a community, never underestimates the value of individual brilliance. The piece closed with a solo by Tipaluck “Mint” Krityakierne that alternated between sharply defined lines, and freewheeling strokes. Ending her piece with dazzling spins, and then exiting the stage with a deliberate lack of flourish, Krityakierne was a perfect archetype of the contradiction of glory and rue.