TEEN AMBASSADOR: ZANE COX | February 27, 2016
When attempting to convey a complex message, different people may find different ways of doing so. Some may choose the spoken word. Some may empty their minds onto a canvas. Others engage in a series of rhythmic synovial joint movements, otherwise known as dance.
The cast of BODYTRAFFIC has mastered the art of interpretive dance in order to tell a story through movement. The three dance pieces that I had the pleasure of experiencing all varied greatly in tone, and each one was an example of something I call “foundation work” in the arts. “Foundation work” means to craft a piece of art, reveal something about it, and let the observer interpret the rest of the piece. A painter may create a piece titled “Sadness”, and it is up to the observer to interpret what elements may have signified sadness to the creator. In the case of BODYTRAFFIC, it is evident that this may be just what the company wants – individual interpretations. Therefore, my interpretations of the pieces are simply that – my interpretations, and may not necessarily be what another observer’s final takeaway was. With that said, I hope you’ll enjoy my analysis of the evening’s dazzling trilogy.
The first piece, titled “And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square…” is a 30-minute tale detailing the lives of a family living in Yemen. The family, composed of 8 sisters and one brother, live in a house where screaming, arguing, and fighting never cease, even in the late hours of the night. Eventually, all nine children are torn apart, and live the rest of their lives filled with rage and sorrow. In between generic dance numbers to keep things lively, several running jokes and themes become apparent. One of these is a scene in which a man, possibly the lone brother, describing a recipe to a woman, who may be one of the many sisters. The man firstly describes the recipe as featuring a meat (such as fish or lamb) as the central focus. The woman interrupts, saying the animal’s life should be honored and respected, but the man replies that the fish or lamb is a “stupid animal”, and deserves to be caught. He then goes on to describe the seasonings and cooking methods to be used. This scene happens on three separate occasions, with the recipe and the woman changing each time. Each woman has a different reaction, with one calling the man “sick”, while another is skeptical at first but enthusiastic by the end. These scenes seem to be the brother talking to each sister individually, with the animals in each recipe being metaphors for women, and all of the delectable seasonings described by the brother seem to be him describing an unrealistic idea of beauty to his sisters. In another scene, five sisters watch a movie at the theater, but are dragged away one at a time by men dressed in black. This scene may represent each sister’s desire to be beautiful, and that they are starting to turn on one another in order for each one to try to be the most beautiful out of them. All in all, this piece to me represents the insecurity that is sometimes prevalent within the female gender, how sometimes a woman may feel she is not “beautiful enough”, and how she may take extreme measures to ensure that her looks are up to par with her unrealistic idea of beauty. In fact, this piece may be empowering women to live by their own standards, and that looks will never change who they are inside. To me, that is a powerful message that has been conveyed beautifully.
The second piece, titled “Dust” is a 15-minute performance inspired by Hofesh Shechter’s performance piece Cult. The piece is presented in a gloomy and unnerving tone, and explores the powers that steer the human race in modern society. Six performers are choreographed to heavily distorted piano pieces, along with frequent voices repeating phrases such as “my life is a desert”, and “something to fight for, something to live for, something to die for”. Along with this, the piece makes heavy use of fog machines, giving the whole scene a slightly hazy and obscured look. The theme throughout this piece appears to be death and fire, and there are several clues inserted throughout the performance that seem to be pointing here – three performers are dressed in black, while the other half is costumed in bright red. The fog machines’ product often takes on the appearance of smoke, low crackling noises are audible throughout the soundtrack, and even the name of the piece itself is in keeping with the inferno theme – Dust. As the piece goes on, it sometimes appears that the performers seem to be enacting a war onstage – Three same-colored dancers perform a series of moves, after which the latter half performs another series, and every series performed by a triad seems to render the other half inactive. After some time passes, the dancers gradually disappear one by one, until only a lone black-clad performer remains to wander alone through the empty void. This piece, I think, is a metaphor for combating our personal demons – we can wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and ready to start the day, but we can sometimes allow just one negative emotion to impact the rest of our waking hours. Perhaps the black-clad performers are our demons, and the red-clad performers a fire – not a fire that destroys, but a different kind of fire, a fire within ourselves, a fire that empowers us to shoot for the stars. In the case of the performance, the fire lost its energy and the demons took over. The piece seems to encourage us not to let the demons inside us to take over, but instead to focus on the positive energy and let our dreams take flight. In the end, the piece’s uncanny undertones make it reminiscent of The Beatles’ Revolution 9, but ended up leaving me with a strangely content feeling.
The third and final piece, titled “o2Joy” is a 15-minute performance expressing pure joy and excitement through movement. The mood of the piece is an abrupt change from the dark tone of Dust, and is set to energetic American jazz songs such as Billie Holiday’s cover of On the Sunny Side of the Street. The performance as a whole is peppered with light-hearted humorous notes, the moves are inspired by traditional ballet stances, and the piece’s meaning doesn’t seem to go much deeper than the concept of expressing your joy in any way you can. This is by no means a bad thing – in fact, sometimes pieces that are meant to be taken at face value can be the most spectacular of all. To choose just one piece to be highlighted out of the three I witnessed would be a Herculean task – each brought a unique concept to the table, and they are so varied that I simply cannot favor one over another. The same goes for the performers – each individual is very important on their own, but they are equally as important as everyone else. In this way, each performer blends with their partners seamlessly to create what could be described as a “mosaic of movement”. I sometimes say that a performance is like a five-star restaurant – you leave feeling greatly satisfied, and yet you want to return to see what else is on offer. Likewise, I left with confidence in the fact that I had just witnessed the most incredible dance company I have seen in years, but I somehow had become so enraptured by the beauty and fluidity that I was hungry for more.
BODYTRAFFIC gave me bucketloads of abstract concepts to ponder. Telling a story with no words is one of the greatest achievements an individual in the performing arts can boast. I very much hope for BODYTRAFFIC to make a return to the Zeiterion one day, and I will be eagerly awaiting that time, with my ticket and metaphorical appetite in tow alongside me, ready to gaze into the spotlight of the mind once again.