My cat’s been mysteriously paralyzed since last Saturday, so this is an EXTREMELY delayed review that I meant to have up last Sunday. Apologies. Life isn’t going exactly as planned ATM. So, this won’t be a strict review of Lightbearer, but also a musing on the meaning of intimacy, community, and memory in dance too.
There’s beauty in intimacy. There’s safety in community. There’s strength in memory.
I’ve been thinking about memory lately–as I usually do, especially around late winter/early spring time–and I’m digging through my sentiments towards certain dances I’ve managed to cling to for mostly emotional reasons.
(My memory is this way with music, films, and video games too. Like, my never-ending emotional journey with Sneaker Pimps’ Becoming X. I burned my one copy of this album into an old hard drive at the dawn of my digital era, c. 2004. Track 6, “Post Modern Sleaze” (along with slight skips on “Spin Spin Sugar,” “Waterbaby,” and “Roll On”) is extremely scratched up. It skips like a banshee at exactly 0:15 and 4:20. And I’ve never made an effort to burn another, cleaner copy. Because my memory is intimately tied to that copy, those track skips, those moments. Every year from January to February, I revisit these damaged tracks for clarity, to remind myself that my personal moments tied to that album did in fact happen. The proof is in that CD copy I listened to obsessively during my first relationship in high school and burned into my first hard drive years ago…)
What dance works stand out in my mind purely for emotional response?
Which ones were the right combination at the right time of viewing to latch onto my memory?
Hawkins’ Plains Daybreak. Pina’s Rite of Spring & Orpheus and Eurydice. Graham’s Lamentation. Kylián’s Petite Mort & Bella Figura. Balanchine’s Jewels. Ochoa’s Requiem for a Rose. Alvin Ailey/Harris’ Exodus. NWDP/Rustem’s Yidam.
Twisted with sentiment and drenched in nostalgia, I can’t seem to forget viewing certain dances–live or online–yet, I’m finding that I’ve forgotten their exact choreographic narrative. The memory remains, the steps fade. (Alternatively, this is the issue I’ve been reading about in regards to dance archives, which seems ironically lost and found in the 21st century..)
With the most recent work I’ve experienced, Lightbearers, I came face to face with a lot of questions I couldn’t find the answers to at the ballet.
I’ve been meaning to get to the Pilot for a long time, but some stupid HTX excuse always comes up–mainly floods which literally cut me off from EaDo every time. The Pilot on Navigation is a large pared-down warehouse with street art sprayed all along the exterior, dim lighting and rugged curtains inside. This is a place that genuinely welcomes the community eagerly. One woman was directing people to the safer parking locations, since they don’t have a lot anymore. Most shows at Pilot come with a “pay what you can” option during final performances.
To be clear, this isn’t the Theater District where your Lynn Wyatt’s of the world come to be adorned. There are no overpriced tickets or sushi bars and hipster hang outs near by. It’s a residential neighborhood in Second Ward, a few minutes away from the city view. For the most part, you get what you pay for here. (Since moving back, I’ve been observing some overpriced performances from many companies around town, but that’s another post for another time…)
Holding Space Dance Collective–formerly ChinaCat Dance–is a local group of professional dancers (Grace Jenkins, Holly Moran, Joanna Bowen, Julie Rubio, Ashley Boykins, Adam Castaneda, Bernard Manzel Jones, Taylor Matrin, Margaret Puckett, Oliver Mira Ramierz, and choreographer/director/HCC professor Maggie Lasher). They worked together for 1 year on this project, birthing a charming narrative that’s exceptionally strong and filled with possibilities.
I know this late notice, but it finishes its run at Pilot tonight and tomorrow night:
“Lightbearer” runs February 10, 11, 16, 17, & 18 at 8:00 pm at the Pilot on Navigation, 5102 Navigation Blvd.
Tickets are $15/pre-sale, students, seniors and kids, $20/general admission at the door, pay-what-you-can on February 16. Information and tickets can be found at holdingspacedance.com and freneticore.net.
Holding Space Dance Collective has been presenting dance in Texas since 2007. We frequently create new work and perform regularly throughout the year.
Lightbearer is the product of intimacy, community, and memory, forming a realm where sentiment–as an audience member and dancer–can live freely.
Here’s the synopsis for Lightbearer via Dance DiSH:
There is a village charged with keeping the Light of the World, a Shadow Queen leaves her Shadow Realm and steals their light. The villagers choose two of their citizens to journey to reclaim the fire. They meet various characters on their journey to find the Shadow Queen, like Northern Lights in Siren form, a Golden God who saves the day several times, raptors, and butterfly creatures. The dancers also play out the physical elements, like a snow storm at sea. In the fieriest scenes, you’ll find shadow demons reveling with their fire torches and fans.
There are 14 indoor vignettes in the first act and the second act ended with a larger segment outside.
The start of Lightbearer, “Dawn” and “Ritual for the Light/Abduction” was a balanced exploration of dance and technology, albeit a bit hesitant on the dance side. A beautiful mix of string lights and airy costuming created a glorious golden hue on the Light of the World character, which immediately helped pull you into this story.
Right away I could also tell that partnering would be the strong suit here. The two main characters–Light of the World and Shadow Queen–plus the two supporting characters–“The Chosen Ones” aka Heroines–were generously choreographed with solos and partnering. The partnering started to drastically hypnotize me by the middle of the act though.
Intimacy is something all dancers desire on stage. How can one perform honest affection with another dancer when they’re being watched and are aware of that fact? It’s a tough feat, one I could never quite master on stage.
In the studio, you’re comforted by the fact that mistakes are welcomed and worked on over the course of hours/days/weeks/months. On stage, you’re mistakes fuck everyone up immediately. As performers, we know this from the start. When you’re a studio kid, you feel this in recitals but can usually play it off. When you’re a studio teenager, you feel this but most likely feel too many other things at the same time.
Yet, with the narrative building and partnering between these groups of characters–mainly the female partnering mentioned above–the mistakes were met with compassion. The responsive understanding I felt from them made me feel closer to them. Like a sphere of reactive intimacy, shared by the willing audience members and active dancers. They weren’t perfect, but neither am I. I really appreciate performances that can gently remind me of that fact through dance.
And although I can’t recall the exact choreography in the first half, the intimacy between dancers to choreography, dancers to dancers, dancers to audience in certain segments touched me. The entire ensemble of Holding Space also kinda reminded me of my early dance degree years at SJC with the first small batch of dancers I ever felt safe and connected to.
The last act “Into the Fire” felt like a family and friends gathering in someone’s backyard, hot chocolate on a brisk TX evening included. I knew there’d be different forms of fire spinning (poi), so I came prepared to cringe.
Let my explain: I’ve had my share of hideous poi moments at Ren Fest, complete with amateurs and professionals alike. Every time I see poi at Ren Fest, though, I cringe because their performances are always about attention grabbing and mesmerizing a bunch of drugged-up, drunk people. It’s belittling to the art of poi, which has a long history in different cultures across the globe and continues to expand with little recognition.
The poi for “Into the Fire” was completely 100% authentically creative and respectful to the form. It came in different spinning techniques and tied into the other production elements with candle-lit vases lining the midstage area. Here the poi fell evenly in the flow arts genre; creative movement paired with entertainment-based art forms, like fire-spinning, that’s neither entirely contemporary nor entirely modern based. The second act did have a sort of balletic undertone at times when the characters were physically detailing the narrative. Sort of a Ballets Russes era reference to mime and movement that felt accessible for the entire community.
Lightbearer was like a marriage of improv and site specific dance, capable of placing itself anywhere in HTX (with regards to fire safety obviously). And that’s awesome.
ATM I’m feel a bit trapped by the Wortham or MATCH. I know the carpets, I can walk around blindfolded on stage, and I feel like some dancers are trapped by specific locations and communities too which results in some tedious performances. I welcome pleasant surprises in dance, even if they might not be as grand and dazzling as a $66 million center and $6 million production.
As the conclusion of “Into the Fire” progressed, I felt sad that I had to leave the space and my new formed moments watching this exciting narrative unfold. You can’t ask for a closer connection to the community than that. At its humblest, it was a project for the people by the people.
It’s also great to note that Lightbearer is presented by The Pilot Artist Board, “a curated space grant program that gives artists of merit the opportunity to present an evening-length program at the Pilot on Navigation.”
The memory of what I experienced during Lightbearer is lasting longer than the movement. And that’s okay.
At times, I walk away from dance performances with a sense of guilt for not remembering everything entirely and fully. I’m a dancer/dance major/dance writer/dance researcher. I feel guilty especially when I’m “reviewing” because I hate forcing myself to remember most dances. (This isn’t true for everything, such as Kylián works, which I’m conducting detailed specialization of his motifs and partnering since college.) My reviewer memory is another post for another time, though.
Déjà vu, déjà vécu.
Lightbearer was a refreshing way for me to share my memories (metaphorically) with the dancers while receiving their narrative (literally). That’s what I love about experimental narrative works in dance. These specific kinds of dance works have the ability to make time last forever with their developed stories, stretching past the time you walk in and out of the performing space.
The spiraling narrative work here reminded me of pioneering mind of Tolkien and that reminded me of playfulness of Gaiman who reminds me of beloved magic of FLB which leads me down an intense magical-realism Márquez trail of memories… The story also happily reminded me of Korra from Avatar too, which made me think about romantic female couples and friendships then finally female partnering–full circle AF.
Allowing the audience the wander down the path of their memories before, during, and after performances is important. Though I encourage active viewing to any audience member–especially dancers–I know that the brain is a complex thing, prone to distractions. I love when personal sentiments get woven into performances unintentionally, though. No one’s telling you to think this, feel this, be this during a performance (unless the work is specifically about directing the audience, which is also valid).
Drowning audience members before and after performances is a constant pain. I didn’t get that with Lightbearer. I read Lydia’s DiSH preview, felt moved by Maggie’s passion for flow arts and narrative, and (much) later, sat down to remember and write without looking at reviews.
Why has everyone forgotten about the art form? The artistic longevity that wraps ballet up with each and every individual work and performance? What happened to encouraging people to share experiences–positive and negative–in dance that ignites a life long search for more dance experiences to remember?
And I’m not just talking about exclusively taking your grandkids to Nutcracker; the urge to experience and share dance has to expand beyond that over-hyped Westernized narrative tradition… But again, another post for another time though…
We’re here for the art form. The process of creation, performance, preservation, sharing that’s exclusive to dance.
Everyone can recall a precise memory about friendship, adventure, heroism, faith, and love. The human experience is universal–plotless/abstract dance demands a different approach and more attention to detail, but when a dance narrative like this comes around, don’t over do it.
Let the art speak for itself, and let the dance and audience share with each other. Trust in your sentiment when watching dance, because chances are the dancers on stage are right there with you. From the creative process to the final performance and onwards, they are experiencing similar waves of intimacy, community, and memory.
I look forward to my next dance venture in HTX and am grateful to have seen and shared my experience with Lightbearer! I might be well behind on attending performances, but trust me–I fully intend on giving myself to every aspect of dance in my coming years. We’ve got a lot to look forward to in dance!
(On that note, I still don’t know my immediate fate in academia…)