Monday, November 02, 2009

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company/Guangdong Modern Dance Company-Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Dance is visual. However, when you write about dance, the performance experience is very different. It becomes more about copious note-taking and less about real observation. Usually, I start writing as soon as a piece begins and immediately try to formulate an opinion as to what is or is not happening onstage. But this weekend at the University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, I did more watching and less writing. As a result, I gained a much stronger connection with the work. If dance writers put down their pens and engage in the simple act of observation, I think the results may shock them.

Other Suns (A Trilogy), the new collaboration between the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company and the Guangdong Modern Dance Company, was an extraordinary examination of duality. It started with the presence of two very different companies from two very different places (the U.S. and China) coming together to craft something unique and special. The particular artists involved and where they were from was obviously a huge component of the project. But, if that was the only instance of duality that you noticed, you missed something. The larger theme was an impartial exploration of the individual and the collective. Often with opposites, one is portrayed as optimal and other as sub-par. Not here. Margaret Jenkins and Liu Qi choreographed these dual perspectives in a neutral and balanced way, revealing a comfort and strength in both states of being.

The first segment, Other Suns I, had a constant urgency and passion, present when only one person was moving or when all the dancers were included. Power was in every grouping. Mid-way through this section, there was a solo for a single female dancer while all the other performers sat downstage left, watching her. Such intimacy and joy was present in her personal discovery of movement and space. No one else had to be involved; she was secluded, yet dynamic. Contrarily, there were several instances where the entire group danced together in a pack, downstage center. In these moments, there was also an infectious living and organic energy. Here, the audience could see the vigor of solidarity and camaraderie.

Other Suns II (Voice After) began with a set of meditative, yoga-like floor exercises. This opening was very ritualistic, almost like daily exercises that every member of a particular group would intuitively know. The structure of the choreography was such that at many times, the six dancers were unable to see each other. Yet still, they were impeccably in sync, each individual working in their own space, but together forming a unison movement image. The coming together of these two companies was a major accomplishment and achievement of this work. Yet, the celebration of duality was the real triumph.

I wouldn't call Other Suns (A Trilogy) a narrative work, but I also wouldn't say it was abstract. It fits more into a middle ground of deconstructed narrative or conceptual imagery, where there was a clear focus, but not a linear story. It demonstrated the strength that exists in the collective and the power that one can gain in solitude. Human existence is simply different in these two circumstances. This piece speaks to the value that is in both.