Friday, June 2, 2023

Dance Review: Beautiful Sock Removal? -Anna Halprin at DTW

Boaz K Barkan, Nuno Bizarro, Alain Buffard, Anne Collod, DD Dorvillier, and Vera Mantero, "parades & changes, replays" / Anna Halprin, Anne Collod & guests While entering the Dance Theater Workshop to see Anna Halprin’s Parades and Changes, I know I have two choices: dare to speak to the person sitting next to me because after all, we are both drawn to the same show, or pretend to be wildly interested in my program, cell phone or dirty fingernails so as to never exchange a single word with said person.  Namely because I assume the person sitting next to be is a performer, I choose the former and have a lovely conversation with my seat neighbor.   I am right in my assumption and am fully enthused to hear Boaz K. Barkan tell me that he will be performing.  As the show begins (with a chorus of performers voices booming from the audience directed by longtime composer and collaborator Morton Subotnick), I have no idea that Barkan, who just endeared me with stories about his two children on the subway and his years spent struggling as a dancer in New York, would soon be stark naked in front of me not once, not twice, but thrice once he hit the marley.

Joined by the five other company members of Anna Halprin under the direction of performer, Anne Collod, I see six well-toned dancers stare at the audience with the looming intensity of a sunset in the desert and carefully unbutton their white oxfords and peel off their trouser socks, sport coats, slacks and undergarments until they wore nothing but a stare that made me feel more exposed than they looked.  As a dancer who has grown up watching dancers perform in various states of undress and nakedly prance about dressing rooms as though skin were an outfit donned on the red carpet, the nudity alone did not bother me nor seemingly anyone else in the audience.  It is their complete dedication to the task at hand, the undressing, and their subsequent focus that is making this accessible "dance move" strongly communicated to the audience.

Have Something to Say?  Join Today! Following this audience stare down, they undress a second time while gazing across the stage at one particular company member, and then undress a third time while staring with the same a partner creating three duets.  Even with my aforementioned proximity to nudity and with the focus taken away from my audience member role,, I feel quite vulnerable.  Why? 

In a normal situation, I would grant them the privacy of averting my eyes.  But, here they are, on a stage, performing, and as an audience member am I not supposed to fulfill my responsibilities and watch?  Life has taught me that when sitting in an audience at a show, you direct focus forward and dream of the moment when the enigmatic beings on stage may toss an accidental glance your way.  Performers often direct their focus outward and, while modern dance often jests at the concept of the fourth wall, pushing through the audience with their candor, at DTW these six performers obliterate even the most modern of these notions and invert my entire idea of performing.

Nothing about their disrobing causes me to think, “Man I wish I could take my sock off that luxuriously while articulating my left baby finger so eloquently. What charm, what finesse!”  The inversion lies in their ability to perform mundane tasks with a heightened sense of awareness – more Eastern than Western in its origins – no multitasking, no highlighting of seemingly impossible feats, just unabashed focus on what it is to do one thing.  Between my earlier struggle with wanting to seem like a normal person who could be social and converse with my seat mate and my desire to seem fully engaged by the inanimate objects in my lap, I become aware of how specific Halprin’s dancers must be.

So often, dance works to prove that the human body can do things far more extraordinary than perform the tasks necessary to get from morning until night.  Halprin, joined with desire to take these daily tasks and make them engaging by reducing them to their raw efforts and results, pushes the concept of "new work."  This particular aspect of Parades and Changes was initially highly controversial and often banned.  Its return to the stage speaks to its importance both in the 60’s and now when no one can dedicate their focus to rituals that link the universe.

The evening takes many other tasks – ripping butcher paper, stomping on small platforms, dressing each other in found objects, etc., and works to bestow upon each task the integrity of highly technical dance work (or what I’d gather a brain surgeon dedicates when operating on a premature baby).  Unwavering in their attention to each task or “cellblock,” they are augmented nightly by their pacing and staging.  No two shows are the same which breathes life into "choreography" that has been engrained in both company and audiences members for all of time.

Go to Dance Theater Workshop to check them out and if you’re lucky, you may just sit next to a man who will talk to you like a human and then perform a human task that makes him seem otherworldly.

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Official Dance Review by
Eileen Elizabeth
Performance:  Parades and Changes
Venue: Dance Theater Workshop
Show Date: November 18, 2009

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