Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dance and Memory: A Choreographic Response

"What Remains" by Sandra Tanner Mack, presented at the College of Marin Dance Department 2014 Spring Concert, “Earthly Flight” April 4,5; 11,12

For dancers there are curious moments where the body and memory are inseparable. The most obvious is in performance when the rehearsals have implanted the movement so firmly in the body the dance springs from the dancer seemingly of its' own will. The performer and the audience both experience dances' immediate, breathtaking beauty.
This training creates not just a dancer’s technique, but a unique chemistry of memory and movement in a body where emotions and positions mix, meld, and remain long after the dance is done. When this remembered knowledge and passion is released there is no "technique" to shape the force of memory. This alchemy of memory and movement for  dancer is what Sandra Tanner Mack explores in her piece, “What Remains." The program notes tell us the piece is dedicated to the memory of Catherine Sim, 1939-2013, former College of Marin Dance Department Coordinator. She was an inspirational dancer, teacher choreographer, writer and treasured colleague."

The stage opens with the sound of the woman dancer/writer, Shellie Jew, furiously tapping away at her typewriter in a kimono. She may be based upon Cathi Sim, but we are not given clear guidance; perhaps she is simply a dancer, who at the other end of her career wonders “What remains,” of these old loves, and old lives. What would happen if they become dislodged from her tissues ? Perhaps they would live again. Perhaps she could dance with them again. 

The lead female dancer, Shellie Jew, stands up from her typewriter, takes off her kimono, and heads toward the barre where the other four dancers are warming up. The choreographer and male lead, Christopher Leon Di Biase stands at the front of the barre, giving them corrections.
 Ms Jew takes her place at the front of the barre, as a grande porte bra sequence is layered upon tondue, plié, rhonde' jambe, balance'. 

It is the balance' that takes her away from the comfort of the barre. She begins to dance with him and we enter into their misty dream world. Their partnering is a fluid combination of simple spins, lifts and runs with her gently alighting on his shoulder. She seemed to float like a memory even when she's on his shoulder. They didn’t seem to physically connect, but each interaction is like a spark, that pulls on a thread that keeps them returning. Their vibration is like a memory of dancing, a fantasy of a time that is not now or then, but something else. 

Ms. Jew is both delicate and deliberate, her movements birdlike yet controlled. Her naturalness seems to spring from an instinct so deeply layered with technique that her emotions are hidden within her flawless dancing. Even in her partnering there is restraint. She is as smooth as a gazelle in her leap to his shoulder and yet as she slides down his body her head is only slightly inclined toward him and her heart is lifted away.

Mr. Di Biase, her partner, is intoxicated within this dream.  He cannot help but respond to her pull. Even as he is catching her, lifting her, feeling her body glide down his chest, he knows she is evanescent. His time with her is limited. An exact gesture trying to pin her down, or a piercing gaze to scrutinize her, would destroy this vision.

He holds her hand in a last twirling partnering. There is a final arabesque that seems to point to something that is not reached, but longed for. 

She turns and walks away. Sits at her desk. Looks away and then up as if remembering. And then for just a second she looks back to where she was. The lights go blank.

The choreographer gives us a story without words, and points us to the stories that live in our bodies. We recall them in a way past language, thought or reason. What we are left with is  something we can never completely understand, only ponder.

Here's to the beauty of life that holds onto its mystery. The story that is just beyond our telling. So we must dance it.

Yours in dance,


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