Friday, April 19, 2013

Where ideas live and move

Dr. Oliver Sacks (left) in conversation with Bill T. Jones, Executive Artistic Director, New York Live Arts (photo by Ian Douglas). Jones says of the dance community, "I wish we were more curious in the big discussion."
New York Live Arts is where thinking and movement meet the future. -- Bill T. Jones
For a healthy, viable future for the art of dance in American society, that art must meet its potential public--a public that is increasingly diverse; a public continuously plugged into numerous and growing sources of information and entertainment; a public caught up, ready or not, by issues of climate change, malfunctioning government, ruthless abuse of children and women, the devaluation of labor, the rise and risks of cyber-technology and more real world concerns and disasters.

New York Live Arts' visionary festival--launched this season as Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks, in celebration of the 80th birthday of the great neurologist and author--establishes a toehold for this turbulent world-at-large in one of our city's historic, beloved venues for innovative, contemporary dance. I salute this integration of the outside with the inside and, personally, it tickles me to enjoy the possibility of taking in so much of what has always moved my life--from artistic research to scientific inquiry, from informed citizenship to activism--in one convenient location. The mix--which is not strictly new but is newly presented here at the famously former Dance Theater Workshop--excites me and offers hope.

Some of it is just plain fun: Watching a video of NASA astronauts playfully demonstrating how the absence of gravity radically alters execution of everyday movements, while their very funny colleague, Marsha Ivins, shares her own experiences (panel on Disembodiedness: Body Image & Proprioception) or waiting for steam and F-bombs to shoot from artist Miguel Gutierrez while a philosopher torturously labors to define what dance supposedly is and is not (panel on Minding the Dancing Body). Gutierrez  knows that, when it comes to research in consciousness, dance--a mode of perception, as he defines it--has been excelling at this work for a long time now.
Marsha Ivins, retired veteran of five NASA Space Shuttle missions
Imagine spinning and never getting dizzy. 
Or moving a 700lb object with just a touch of your fingers. 
For more fun with zero g, check this out.

Dance artists have information, strategies and even wisdom that the rest of us could benefit from. Jones seems bent on getting this word out to society as well as making some beneficial connections for the dance field. At times, the dialogue seems a little stilted, a little awkward and even prickly, but as long as the various parties are in the same room, talking, who knows what good might come of it?

On the Minding the Dancing Body panel, choreographer RoseAnne Spradlin spoke of making dances as a way to help people see what is usually hard to see, a purpose that Alva Noë and Colin McGinn--the philosophers on hand--readily identified as the goal of their discipline, too. Later that evening, Donna Uchizono's new dance--presented along with her 1999 trio, State of Heads--illustrated this mission.
Donna Uchizono in Out of Frame (photo by Ian Douglas)
Out of Frame, commissioned for the Live Ideas fest, takes as its inspiration the young Dr. Sacks' observations in 1969 of eighty people who survived the 1920s worldwide occurrence of a brain inflammation called encephalitis lethargica. Working from Sacks' accounts of these "recovered" patients in his renowned book, Awakenings, Uchizono distills the characteristic lingering distortions of body, personality and perception of time and space, even persistent immobility, into a solo performed on a tall ladder in the middle of a bare stage. On its own, this staging says so much--the rarity of the condition, the isolation of those who cannot look or function according to the norm, the extremity and precariousness of their situation even under medication, the mystery of a disease whose cause and prospects for resurgence remain unknown.

The solo is strangely beautiful and bizarre and fascinating; one of Uchizono's initial images presents her hand as if it were the clenched bulb of a carnivorous flower or a slowly rippling sea creature. The piece traps memory and heightened sensations within an altered state in which the body might not be perceived as a stable or singular entity...or even one's own. Josh Higgason's video layers an image of the dancer's body onto her flesh, helping us see what it's like to feel that something is very much, well, off.

Live Ideas: The Worlds of Oliver Sacks continues through Sunday evening, April 21. For information on all remaining events--including the encore of Donna Uchizono's dance program on Saturday at 4pm--click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

No comments:

Copyright notice

Copyright © 2007-2016 Eva Yaa Asantewaa
All Rights Reserved

Popular Posts