I have been thinking a lot about dance as a liberatory practice. I know this stems in part from my involvement with Don’t You Feel It Too?, a dance practice which touches on a lot of things, including personal liberation and social healing. (Summer sessions last week, in fact, and the next one is today! See you there?)
One of the results of practicing this form for me is an exploration of vulnerability and earnestness. This is something that has long terrified me. I much prefer the snarky commentary, the self-degrading humor, the tongue-in-cheek and over-the-top. To be clear, I think these are not solely a way to avoid earnestness, but are sometimes a more comfortable way of entering into authentic earnest self. (I think of exercises in Hijack’s improv class, where sometimes doing the opposite of a thing is the back-door way of accessing the thing itself.)
But I’ve been inspired by a number of things I’ve seen lately- dances that don’t shy away from the sad or serious or earnest or vulnerable; dances that don’t rely on snark or over-the-topness. (SuperGroup’s In Which ______ and Others Discover the End, Samantha Johns and Annie Enneking’s what i want now i will want later, Aniccha Arts’ Every Other.) These pieces have forayed deeply into an-all-encompassing atmospheres, embracing and completing the task of immersing the audience in something serious, steeped in feelings, evoking an echo of those feelings in the viewer. They have touched me in ways that were devoid of irony, camp, parody, or tongue-in-cheek (though some also had moments of humor or used ironic juxtapositions).
Again, I value irony and parody- I have always believed that these sometimes cynical, critical tools can illuminate an earnest truth, can be authentic, are, in fact, sometimes necessary to save earnestness from a cloying preciousness. But there is another kind of earnestness that is newly fascinating to me- the kind that is bolstered by whole-hearted vulnerability. The kind of vulnerability that can acknowledge itself, it’s flaws, it’s hopes, without laughing at them, making light of them, or excusing them.
I am suddenly thinking of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s solo show to an albumn of beloved Joni Mitchell songs. I am seeing the opening, where she stood, in stillness, looking at the audience, just looking. I did not have the same attatchment to Joni Mitchell, but Keersmaeker’s commitment, whole-hearted, honest, full and unapologetic, brought forth a gravity in her dance and in me.
And sometimes I see it in virtuosic movement- a body unafraid of revealing the wealth of personal information it houses, unafraid of intimacy, unafraid of meaning.
Chris Holman long ago commented that he would like to see Mad King Thomas do something serious. While again I defend the place of humor in seriousness, I think perhaps he was asking for this kind of bravery. The openness of earnest vulnerable dance. This still terrifies me, but maybe, maybe I am a step closer to being ready to engage in it. It means probably I will make some very bad dances, but that is part of the practice- unequivocally giving the dance with a wholeness of effort and an acceptance of humanness.