I went to the opening night of Misnomer Dance Theater’s Being Together at the Joyce SoHo last night. I almost don’t want to write anything yet since they’ll be broadcasting live their December 14th performance. I know, how coolly innovative, right! So, I encourage everyone to watch that. It’s going to be here, on their website. Don’t worry; I’ll remind you again closer to the date
The work is divided into three sections: “Too Late Tulip”; “Rock.Paper.Flock”; and “Zipper”. All deal with different ways human beings have of connecting to each other. The second and third also deal with (a related issue, I suppose, of) how meaning is made in dance — is it due more to the choreographer or the dancers? — which to me, as someone who’s never danced anything but ballroom, is something I’ve always wondered about. I mean, with all other kinds of artists — writers, painters, composers — the work is due entirely to the person at the helm. Sure, actors (in the case of a play) and musicians over time add their own interpretations, but it’s ultimately the writer or composer’s words or notes. I’ve never understood choreographers who say they couldn’t have possibly made their dance on anyone else. That seems to contribute to the ephemeral nature of dance. And that ephemeral quality would seem to negate that a dance, like the other arts, can have a history, and a future. And yet great dances, thankfully, do survive the dancers on whom they were made.
Anyway, choreographer Christopher Elam says his dances are completely open to interpretation, but my interpretation of the first, “Too Late Tulip” was that it’s the story of a woman who has trouble connecting to others. She enjoys swaying to the music on her own, but when others try to join her, to connect with her in various shapes, she kicks out at them, pushes them away. Soon, she is taken with a male dancer, who has a female partner already. The effect is at times chaotic, at times sweet.
The second part I really can’t write about because so much of it was improvised, albeit “directed” on the spot by the choreographer, by Elam. His commands to the dancers are at times hilarious in their generality or seeming contradictions: “Coco, I want you to do what I am thinking” (she playfully shoved another dancer); “Dorian, take center stage with intention and an air of mystery stage and then act like a bowling trophy”; “Luke, focus intensely on something beyond our comprehension” (this was actually rather mesmerizing); “Coco, transform yourself into a magical being and engage in a battle and negotiation with Luke”; etc. It was hilarious watching the dancers take on these commands and this section will be the most interesting to watch repeated on December 14th.
The third part, “Zipper,” seemed to be an extension of the themes of the first two. A dancer (Coco Karol, pictured above with Elam) moved her arms about as if conducting an orchestra. Two dancers would at points move along with her gestures, like they were her instruments, and she’d smile; at other times they’d do their own thing and her face would express surprise or concern. Was she in control or were they? Later, Elam dances, conveying (to me) a loner trying desperately to connect, at times with Karol, at times with the other male dancer in the troupe, Luke Gutgsell.
One thing about Elam — his movement language is so original, something I can’t say of many other choreographers. I’m sure this is the effect of having lived and studied abroad, working in a variety of non-Western cultures. The movement is somehow still evocative of the familiar though, and emotionally moving — the creatures he creates can be funny, sad, pathetic, cute, always endearing. (If you watched So You Think You Can Dance, think Mark Kanemura). In “Zipper”, he moves at times like a gorilla, at times like a crab. To me, this speaks to the interconnectedness of life forms, of how humans can be animalistic and non-human animals human-like. It’s worth going to see his work just to see such unique movement and partnering.
So watch on December 14th! And hopefully, they’ll put a permanent video on the website for watchers who aren’t before a computer at that time…