Whether in the way of sickness, dis-/different-ability, or anything else bodily related, we tend to focus on the ways our bodies limit our movements and resent them for it. Waking up on the day of a major event with a stuffy nose, a pounding head and aching limbs can be frustrating. For dancers, specifically modern dancers, these body-related events can be more than restrictions; they are inspiration. From Thursday Nov. 19 to Saturday Nov. 21, five third year MFA (Master of Fine Arts) grad students and one guest presented their choreographed thesis projects revolving around bodily experience. The show was titled “Honest Bodies” and consisted of dance pieces choreographed by either the guest choreographer, Holly Rothschild, or one of the five grad students (Liz Ivkovich, Wen-Hsin Liu, Yasin Fairley, Allison Shir and Cat Kamrath).
Each piece utilized bodily movement to tell stories and relay messages from the choreographers to the audience. Modern dance, in ways other dance genres cannot, fully involves the audience. Unlike ballet, which has a specific story to tell, the meaning behind modern dance performances changes based on individual perception, with each perspective just as valid as the next person’s and even as valid as the choreographer’s intentions.
At this performance, every piece focused on the body as it experienced reality. One in particular that emphasized bodily experience in violent ways was Fairley’s choreographed piece titled “Abject/Body.” This piece tackled the often violent experiences of black bodies in America through unconventional uses of the American flag and body on body contact. Watching the performers was painful in ways I had never seen dance be before. As Fairley explains in the program, “Abject/Body” is a “conceptual exploration of intimate and systemic violence inscribed on the body” using dance as the medium.
Other pieces, such as “The King Stag”, choreographed by Ivkovich (in collaboration with Emma Wilson, the dancer who performed the piece), and “Clay Passerine,” choreographed by Shir, played with the idea of the human body as animal. One made efforts to paint the performer as physically similar to an animal while the other relied on bodily movement to make the performer look animal-esque.
“Witness,” choreographed by Rothschild, “At the Moment — 30, 1095,” choreographed by Liu and “Fibers,” choreographed by Kamrath, played with different and often extreme ways the body can move but isn’t often used for. Watching was both off-putting and educational. ‘Who knew a body could do that?’ was a common thought throughout all three.
The way the entire performance used the body is unique to modern dance and was experimented with in even more unique ways in “Honest Bodies.” The pieces were often challenging to watch, but they also encouraged engaging trains of thought about the way audience members experience and view bodies.