COURTESY PHOTOS/JOHNATHAN HSU
Editor’s note: Ariadne Will is a member of the Dance Company of Middlebury and a Local Editor for the Campus.
After five months of rehearsals, the Dance Company of Middlebury will be performing a new work, On A Limb, this upcoming weekend. Dancers Lí Buzzard 22.5, Christian Kummer ’22, Emma Lodge ’19.5, Mai Thuong ’22 and I have been working since early September to create work centered around the concept of “presence as performance.” Led primarily by Scholar in Residence Karima Borni, the dancers also worked with Portland, Ore.-based artist Meshi Chavez.
Chavez, who practices primarily the Japanese dance style of Butoh, has used the opportunity to introduce dancers to more intentional methods of movement.
“I feel like my job as a choreographer is to help my dancers shine in the best light while learning how to get out of the light in a certain way,” Chavez said. “I think part of Butoh is learning how to remove ourselves, our opinions and our judgments and let the beauty of simplicity arrive.”
This practice of patience and simplicity has been challenging for the dancers, but they have used it to create something they hope resonates with their audience.
“I hope the audience can see our honest and genuine effort to feel movement and intensity without having to add anything performative to it,” said Mai Thuong ’22. “I hope that the audience will embrace the simplicity [the piece] has to offer.”
Even with strong intent behind movement, Chavez says that an idea alone is not enough to create a stimulating performance. “It’s not enough to have an idea. We have to be able to communicate the idea,” he said. “What do we have to say? Right now I am trying to help the dancers figure out what they’re trying to say.”
The dancers, too, are trying to decipher what they want to tell their audience.
“[The creative process] has been about committing to the task at hand, whatever that task may be, and knowing that in 15 minutes the task may be entirely different,” said Emma Lodge ’19.5. “There’s been so much working with other people and learning to listen in new ways.”
As Lodge has been learning to listen, other dancers have been relearning the ways different bodies fit into the dance narrative.
“We have learned about the difference between doing choreography and allowing choreography to be done unto you,” said Christina Kummer ’22. “The latter allows for a more authentic performance to take place as the piece gets to live and breathe as its own entity.”
Thuong learned that anyone can become a member of the dance community. “Before coming to Middlebury, I hated dancing,” she said. “I thought dancing [was for] the sake of aesthetic beauty or entertainment and meant long legs, flexibility and shallowness.”
This changed in her first semester, when Thuong attended the Fall Dance Concert. “I thought, ‘where are all those stereotypes about dance?’ I felt there was a meaning I wanted to grab,” she said. Thuong then took Intro to Dance in the spring of 2019 and has been dancing ever since. “I love this feeling of being free and letting my body be open to the vulnerability and thrill of moving,” she said.
It is perhaps this attention to learning — an attention that has played as large a role as the movement itself — that has led the work to assume an essence which dancers have described as both “uncomfortable” and “meditative.”
“If you’re wanting to feel comfortable and catered to, this may not be the piece for you,” warned Kummer. Despite his disclaimer, Kummer believes that this work also carries with it a universality.
“I want this piece to be a sounding board that brings up particular emotions and memories for everyone in the audience,” he said. “That is something that is so exciting about the dance we do in the department – [dance] means something different to everyone. The task becomes to make something that is compelling enough to draw out meaning.”
The universality to which Kummer hopes the work appeals is something Chavez says is the result of the ages of DCM’s dancers.
“I think the work is about [the dancers’] experience at the age that they are right now,” he said. “You go off to college and you’re on your own and you’re discovering what that ownness is. So in some ways I feel like this piece is about feeling our ownness and all of the emotion and feeling that comes with that.”