The power of dancers

5 minute read
723 Jaamil Kosoko by Dan Conrath

The power of dancers:

The body, too, is a weapon

"All art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further."


I am on an Amtrak train gazing out the window, returning to Philadelphia after a weeklong residency at Indiana University of Pennsylvania with my friend, the choreographer Kate Watson-Wallace. We have spent the past several days reconstructing her new work "CAR" for five campus dancers to premiere in April 2008 as a part of IUP's Lively Arts Festival, before re-staging the piece in Philly for a September run in the Live Arts/Philly Fringe Festival.

For a moment, while studying the speed of trees that pass against the window, I become amazed at how fast my world moves around me. Kate has taken a break from pecking at her iBook to get a cup of coffee and has left me reading Mother Jones, a political news magazine. The headline reads: "U.S. Out ? How? The moral dilemma of leaving Iraq." I am constantly reminded that the world is in crisis. The Internet, the TV, the papers all tell me that thousands have died and will continue to die. And yet I’m able to sit here as an artist, comfortably sipping my latté, writing and thinking critically about the human condition.

I begin to question my body. I wonder if what I create is strong enough to prevail in such discouraging times?

Stories of suicide bombers, soldiers and crying children left in ruins abound throughout the media. I feel stifled. I don't want to create. I don't want to teach. I don't want to work. I don't want to attend the board meetings, the lunches with collaborators, the rehearsals. I just want to be still. I want to quiet down, close my eyes and climb out of this skin to watch myself watching the world unfold.

While the world burns, a board meeting

But my schedule allows little time for levitation. I’m constantly moving. I propel my body through space and call it art to give myself a reason for being alive. The world is on fire, and I'm at a board meeting for Dance/USA Philadelphia, then an Artists U professional development salon, then a performance at the Wilma, where Ballet X is premiering its new winter season to a sold-out audience.

After two wonderfully performed pieces choreographed by Ballet X co-artistic directors Mathew Neenan and Christine Cox, the curtain rises, unveiling a landscape of dancers with Cox walking through a forest of bodies frozen in time. Smoke fills the stage and suddenly all the dancers sync into her rhythm. This is the opening image from Adam Hougland's "Risk of Flight," a brilliantly crafted contemporary ballet that unfolds like a poem in three sections. Section 2 is a sexy and fierce pas de deux performed by Meredith Rainey and Heidi Cruz; Section 3, a sultry full-company exploration of time and space.

Drenched in the beauty

Hougland's choreography jumps off the stage and splashes all over me. I’m drenched in the beauty of these dancers, their love for their own moving bodies, their articulate feet and muscular legs— bodies that show so much grace, effort, and strength that I’m left breathless and inundated. I take that sense of grace I witnessed on stage out of the theater, carry it home, and into the dance studio the next morning.

Here all the other dancers of Headlong Dance Theater ask about the show. I do my best to share my experience of the prior evening before Tere O'Connor (a guest artist contracted by Headlong to conduct movement research with the company) begins his lecture on movement science and the explosive capability of dance.

I’m honored to be in the room. Headlong Dance Theater has invited six associate artists: Nicole Canuso, Niki Cousineau, Devynn Emory, Kate Watson-Wallace, Christina Zani and me to join its process with O'Connor. His lecture reassures me that my work in dance has power and meaning, and that dance does what no other art-form is able to do: It communicates multiple ideas about the world in real time, using only a kinesthetic language. It has multiple dimensions and layers. It possesses the ability to activate the world in a very real, concrete and physically stunning way.

A cure for danger

From where I sit on the train, I can see only blurs of city streetlights before entering the tunnel at 30th Street Station. I suppose this trip to Indiana, Pa., was a gift. Besides the much-needed rest, I was able to organize my thoughts and process all the insight that Adam Hougland, Tere O'Conner, Ballet X, Headlong Dance Theater, Kate Watson-Wallace, and all the other choreographers had given me.

Dance offers the magical ability to lift us away from our lives and help us forget, if only for a moment, that we are dying. With so many people in danger, art is probably the only cure for a suffering world. I understand that physical safety is a privilege, and that making a living using my body as a vehicle of truth is an even greater privilege. It's a gift to move at my fullest potential on a daily basis, and explain my views on the world via physical communication. My body is a weapon. I use my life's force as ammunition. An army of dance artists, united, wields the power to take that Risk of Flight, to fall and leap, to kick and spin and fly until this war is done.

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