Sunday, March 5, 2017

This ability: "Our Configurations" at Gibney Dance


Top: Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson of Kinetic Light
(photo: Scott Shaw)
Bottom: Marc Brew of AXIS Dance Company
(photo: Andrea Testoni)

In a dance concert, what would be more surprising ? What Marissa Perel asks her first two able-bodied "consensual submissives" to do in (do not) despair solo while she exercises her agency to speak to her audience? Or how she treats her third submissive?

How about this: What's more in your face? The way choreographer Sonya Delwaide moves her two performers, keeping you aware of dancer Julie Crothers (AXIS Dance Company) phocomelia, a genetic disorder affecting one of her arms? Or the fact that the two women, Crothers and Alivia Schaffer, remain finely, intimately attuned to each other at each point of their duet, Dix minutes plus tard (Ten Minutes Later)?

And what of the partnership of Kinetic Light's Alice Sheppard and Laurel Lawson (to bend a bough and Broken Intent)? Is it more mindblowing to watch these dancers use streamlined wheelchairs as if these objects were STREB action gear? Or is it the way both women switch on their vulnerable flesh, their minds and their passions throughout a demanding encounter, showing us what it means to claim space, to claim life?

Our Configurations, an evening at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, reworked how we think about and look at disability in dance and performance. It raised questions of audience preconceptions--what do we expect and feel entitled to see?--and the privilege of the able-bodied to decide what is or is not noteworthy and virtuosic in performance.

Virtuosity, the product of disciplined labor, is worthy of respect, no one denies. In the post-show Q&A moderated by Hentyle Yapp, Sheppard declared, "Why wouldn't we have virtuosity? We put in the hours like everyone else." (Absolutely noted!) But for Perel, a queer artist living with pain, making art is "an act of resistance against normativity," an upending of expectations. So virtuosity needs to be "a new set of choices" not projected by viewers or critics but conceived by artists themselves. "Crips to the front," Perel declares. "People with disabilities taking up space in dance contexts."

I came away from Our Configuration with my own energies flying. Like AXIS artistic director Marc Brew (of Remember When, his visual and expressive feast in dance and film), I felt eager for this evening to open the way for "more, more, more."

The Winter/Spring 2017 season at Gibney continues with The Bureau of the Future of Choreography's presentation of 1776. Click here for more information.

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