Under the banner, A New Dawn, Dance Kaleidoscope presents new choreography by former Company Member André Megerdichian (Belly of the Whale) and DK Artistic Associate/Company Member Stuart Coleman (Hindsight/Blindsight) as reflecting the difficulties of going forward during the pandemic.
Developed during early December and filmed Dec. 18, 2020, on the IRT OneAmerica Stage, by a WFYI-public television crew, I believe each of us will bring our own meaning to this performance post - Jan. 6.
When I watched on Jan. 9, both works unfolded as prescient and reflective, as the Janus image of a new year — hindsight, foresight. What makes a work of art entertaining and enduring is its capacity to touch all the bases of head, heart, and gut. Megerdichian reflects upon the well-known biblical Jonah and allows us to see ourselves in a hero/heroine journey, and I would have been content to applaud this transformative restoration from despair to hopefulness. Yet, something more hit. As I’m drawn into the choreography’s feeling of weightlessness, openness, expansiveness, and yet times of deadweight clipped wings, I’m filled with a manifestation of Nietzsche’s cosmic dancer, who can float above as the seer of multiple points of view.
Oh my. In my mind’s eye, along with entering into the unfolding and dispersing group movement on my computer screen, I’m seeing a different kind of choreography of bodies massing onto the grounds, into the great hall, down the narrow corridors of the U.S. Capitol, broadcast and rebroadcast like a bad remake of Groundhog Day on my television screen. And suddenly I’m comprehending what my mind never wanted to embrace. We have been/are in a state of Nineveh, and it was/is not going away, just getting more deeply mired in its own muck, until something cataclysmic happened as a whack on the side of the head.
And that’s when I went back in memory to Herman Hesse’s novel, Journey to the East, and I felt another layer bolstering Megerdichian’s narrative as a journey within personhood merging the distinctions between ‘servant’ and ‘leader’ to become at-one-moment as servant leader. I could replace weeping with hope, but only if I myself take responsibility as a citizen to right wrongs, to embrace those least like me in philosophical concepts of inclusion. As a work of art, Belly of the Whale is beautifully rendered. It is brilliant in its symbolic removal of the dancers’ top layer of clothing and in its manifest use of three company dancers who actually live together, stepping out of social distancing and touching as in normal times. Wow.
We have known about studies of infants who are not touched and cuddled. And now we know about grownups who feel untouched and uncomforted. Just days from celebrating Epiphany, the depth of comfort and joy came at me watching this DK program, and it thrust me yet again into that now ever-repeated image of Mr. Trump ensconced behind plexiglass intoning, “I love you all” just prior to their swarming and trashing the citadel of our democracy.
The image of a raised fist as a sign of solidarity with being the outlier, along with what I now was experiencing within this dance, brought me to the cognizance of what indeed lies ahead. We must come to embrace the action of a servant as the undergirding value before we seek to be a leader. Belly of the Whale is a civics lesson for our time, deservedly to be repeated again and again with conversations that lead to reaching into a community whose sense of worth is damaged but not beyond repair. To Mergerdichian’s positing, “What if we knew we do not walk alone?” is it possible to add, "What if we — each and everyone — know we do not walk alone, and then we actually reach out across the walls we build to divide and actually see the pain in the other?"
Coleman writes in his program notes, “Hindsight/Blindsight is inspired by the cultural events that transpired in the year 2020, specifically regarding the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and my personal enlightenment about the systemic racial injustices that plague our society to this day.
“Hindsight,” he explains, “is a nod to the old adage ‘Hindsight is 20/20’. This piece is my reflection (or hindsight) on all we thought this past year would bring contrasted with what actually occurred. “Blindsight” is defined as a phenomenon in which people with damage in the primary visual cortex of the brain can tell where an object is, although they cannot consciously see it.”
Coleman’s self-examination is rendered even more poignant as a call to parallel communal self-examination. He lays bare his shortcomings. “Throughout 2020, my metaphorically blind eyes were opened to harsh realities, to the ugly truth of a world only some of us live in. This dance explores where we thought we were headed, where we ended up and poses the question: where do we go from here?”
No one is excused, least of all me, to the question: "Where do we go from here?" This is what circles back to Belly of the Whale. We each must answer the call to reach across barriers and give fulsome action to the easy lament, ‘We’re in this together, aren’t we?’ “This” has multiple meanings and you’ll find them in Coleman’s examination of a population in dire straits cloaked in blackness, gradually edging towards a motionless figure attired in the splendor of red and seated within a glowing light, back turned to events, his eyes unseeing the carnage edging ever closer to his unresponsiveness.
The reality of metaphor closes in on me in my solo home space. How absurd would it be for me to call out to the stolid figure on a theatre stage, "Why aren’t you doing something essential to save lives."
This is what good art is about. We are moved to care to do what is essential for the well-being of the larger world outside of our small selves. Starting now, if not yesterday.