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Friday, May 31, 2013

Wondrous Michelle Boulé

Aztec goddess giving birth

A woman, stark naked, bursts in as bright lights and pumping dance music flood the space. You could say she strides, but her forceful, relentless action more closely resembles flight: a rigid wingspan of glistening arms, the same electric tension extending through neck, jaw, constant grimace, upward stare.

She stops, now and then, to rhythmically wave her arms to the music but never looks into the eyes of the people surrounding the performance space on all four sides. Though she eventually also roams and waves behind the audience rows, you never sense that she's aware of other people in the room. For the span of a long, repetitive song, she's just... elsewhere. A figure of human flesh, gleaming under the light, nevertheless she appears to be constructed of steel capable of resisting and deflecting anything projected upon it.

Michelle Boulé's opening to Wonder--her solo, commissioned by Issue Project Room and premiered in the Gallim Dance Studio at Clinton Hill's Church of St. Luke and St. Matthew--could be remembered as this dance season's most stunning and certainly most courageous adventure.

Isadora Duncan
(Arnold Genthe, 1917)
As the song suddenly deflates, though, so does her velocity, her energy, her mood. She retrieves a stash of clothing tucked under a chair, dressing in underwear, a tank top and leggings, before turning back to the space. Her dancing remains expansive and rapturous in its fashion--just different, more human. She moves in every which way, and you feel the weight of her body parts moving her. Like sentences, her twisty phrases often roll to a complete stop where you can sit for a moment, absorbing what you have just "heard."

A little later, when she neatly settles into a yoga pose,  we actually do hear speech--a voice-over monologue about a dancer's life and career and disappointments and killer ambition (Boulé's?). These musings flow a little too rapidly to record or retain, but one line stays with me: "I could have built cities with that power." It feels right for a dancer to say that.

"Shame on me for trying so hard. Shame on me for being afraid." Dance, dance, dance! Keep on dancing!, sings Chic. Boulé spins a hula hoop around her waist, then spins within it with undeniable, if somewhat desperate, virtuosity.

The woman who spins out of that hoop takes up space, makes her footfalls resound, yells her identification and desire (for everthing!) from the core and is not at all afraid to make herself look increasingly ridiculous.

Frog anatomy
Michelle Boulé dances Wonder
(photo by Wah-Ming Chang)

The dance--about forty-five minutes in length--takes an affecting turn towards its conclusion. Boulé gradually makes her way around the room, around the circle of watchers. She lingers in front of one after another, presenting each of many people with what appears to be a dance tailored and perhaps responding to that individual.

Wonder finishes its two-night run this evening with a sold-out performance at 8pm.

For more information about Issue Project Room events, click here.

Boulé blogs at where she has shared insights that followed a trip to the West Bank city of Ramallah:
At the very least, I can be responsible towards myself and the people I interact with everyday.  It almost feels like a violent act to jump from a conflict-stricken nation to focusing solely on me, myself, and I, but it’s here where I truly have the immediate power to make a difference–to attempt to undo all that I’ve acquired that supports fear, judgement, violence, manipulation, and separation, and to literally turn myself ON to the fierce clarity of love, forgiveness, and growth.  It’s a physical reaction.  If I can pay attention to this simple feeling of when I close down, when my heart literally beats less freely, I can also ask myself in the moment what other choice I can make to support space and movement.
Read more of I'm turning myself ON by Michelle Boulé here.

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