Minnesota Dance Theatre spring 2011

Aesthetic of escape: hungry, ecstatic. The point of the rules is to propel out some limb of exception: a partnership of pure involution goes on because there’s a glimmer of light that way. You can hang there, eros revolving, or sudden wingspan, one hand to the floor and one to the sky, and there’s the ah: moment when you see the shape your saving breath makes on the mirror.
This might be hunting: a very intent stare down a diagonal and then a pell-mell lunge. The pursuit in which you hound yourself, pare down to a single stag leap. It might be travel: a severe search, the terms of which perhaps prevent one finding what one seeks. Or we might have seen a winter tree on a hillside and become that for a moment, flitting from shape to shape in order not to be. Or think of saints who burn their way through.
I was talking with another poet about form and formlessness. He critiqued the restraint of the classical body and praised permission. I didn’t really have an answer. But I think I would say, post-MDT spring concert, that I like a moment of permission jerked loose of a strict set of rules. My answer is religious, really: if you don’t believe, you don’t. But if you do, you can also feel the brilliant hurt/heat of a bolt of else.
Certainly it’s sexy: all that lithe writhing. But sexy is not only sex. And certainly it’s teleological: all that breakneck towards. Perhaps it’s irresponsible: the craving for what this is not. But aesthetics is the larger realm than politics after all. You can dislike, if you please, the pleasure that comes at the end of this or that—exhaustion, waking, divorce, first kiss, voice against silence, silence suddenly, departure or arrival. But the pleasure of change is, fleetingly—and then we’ll run through ourselves to find it again.

About the dancers—I never saw them look so together. I don’t mean well-rehearsed (they almost always are). I mean that they seem to have communicated with each other. It’s in their mutual approach that I see the aesthetic sketched above. They look alike dissatisfied with ease and selfhood, and they urge each other on to open more space. This approach (which I know, from taking classes with her, is Lise Houlton’s) used to show most clearly in Melanie Verna (but her version was often architectural or organic, not dramatic). It’s as if, with Verna’s recent injury, the rest have taken up the flag. Everyone has moments of flame, and everyone has authority; I don’t feel tempted to anatomize them or talk about them as if they don’t know what they’re doing (and I have in the past). Sarah Fifer may have beautiful feet and “a knack” for balance—tools, abilities—but what I notice is how she threads the needle: dense and tense winding to find the narrowest escape.
Raina Gilliland especially makes her move here. She looks confident, sure of what she’s standing on and ready to abandon it. I don’t know how she manages to be always at the break point—her arms, in particular, always opened up behind her like wings, far beyond the classical—without it turning into a mere mannerism, but she seems to breathe there, and I believe her.
I have to mention Sam Feipel too. He’s the rare dancer who can do exactly the same step as everyone else, and sometimes not as well, and still look like he’s doing something entirely different. I’m watching in general, I see a flare of something else—realization, clarity, balance that’s felt rather than performed—what was that? Feipel again.

The choreography could all have been shorter and clearer, except for Ashton’s Façade (1931; a bit of ballet fondant in which Feipel is especially fun). The premiere, Hope Boykin’s MOVEments, loves some clichés (that title; that walking around like a school of fish business; that staring at the audience—MDT always walks around and stares at the audience). Boykin’s taste isn’t sure: witness the costumes (man-décolletage? dance snuggies?) and a maudlin middle section. But I like that she has a sense of humor (sometimes in short supply at MDT) and I like the overall shapelessness, the way she trusts that pulling out a dancer or two for an exploration of some impulse is enough. With these dancers, it is.

This coming year marks MDT’s 50th. We’ll hear plenty about the milestone, I’m sure. But it would be nothing if the company weren’t still toeing this razor edge.

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About lightseydarst

Originally from Tallahassee, Lightsey Darst writes, dances, writes about dance, and teaches in Minneapolis. Her book Find the Girl was published by Coffee House Press in April 2010, and her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Minnesota State Arts Board. She also hosts the writing salon “The Works”.
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