Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mary Carbonara Dances

"What Does It Feel Like to Kill Someone?" (world premiere)
KUNST-STOFF Arts, San Francisco, CA
June 10, 2011

Dancer: Kerry Demme
Photo credit: Karen Asensio
Not often, but every once in a while, a dance piece transforms the artistic field, adding value to and changing its genre.  There is a sense that you have borne witness to something extraordinary and that dance is not the same and will not be the same because of the work's existence.  Twyla Tharp's "Deuce Coupe"  fused ballet and modern together; Bill T. Jones' "Still/Here" created on-going dialogue between artists and critics; and now, we have Mary Carbonara's "What Does It Feel Like to Kill Someone?" which streamlines dance theater to its core and essence.  Carbonara's incredible narrative journey represents what modern dance theater should be - no frills; no gimmicks; no peripheral elements, just pure choreographic brilliance.  This world premiere reveals that when deeply meaningful movement is combined with talented, committed performers, dance theater is forever changed. 

"What Does It Feel Like to Kill Someone?" began without any fanfare or lighting cues; it simply emerged organically in the room.  This first scene found the dancers creating an obituary wall, writing names with chalk on the studio's exposed brick.  Here was an incredibly present and intentional showing of comfort and remembrance; they all watched intently and supported each other with the laying on of hands.  Then, the air shifted and all five performers entered the space for the first diagonal sequence, which had a definite crescendo both in terms of speed and intensity.  This introduction spiraled into choreographic abandon, with urgent, angry and violent movements.  You could see the desperation and fear on their faces and in their bodies.  Lifts took on a pulling, pushing and grabbing feel, and arms morphed into weapons (evident in the jerky, staccato treatment of the hands and fingers).  A particular sequence oozed with angst and suffering as one of the men undertook a slow, flexed grand rond de jambe followed by an urgent single-legged fouetté; it was like his pain was being transmitted into the universe from his limbs.  The narrative was cleverly being told in reverse order.  The chalkboard opening actually felt like the end of the story (the remembrance of death) while the rest of the piece revealed the circumstances that lead to that place of mourning.      

The dance theater aspect of this piece was very apparent: a focus on inhumanity with no resolution; no explanation and no justice.  Carbonara unpacked the idea of inflicted human trauma and left it for the audience to experience.  Dancers were being overpowered and controlled by each other - continually thrown against the wall and pushed to the floor in a purposeful effort to break their spirit.  And, the viewer was forced to confront their own complacency when bad things happen.  The wall shadows that were created in the studio reminded us that we often look at difficult situations through a filter and as the final female solo began, one quiet movement screamed for recognition in the performance space.  As her hand delved into her chest, she simultaneously contracted and curved her upper body over a parallel passé leg.  The message of this pose was so plain - human suffering should destroy us, break our hearts and rock us to our very core; if it doesn't, then we aren't paying attention.

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