From Skin to Desire: the week in dance

Lightsey Darst offers dispatches from two shows, the seductive and provocative "Dim All the Lights" at the BLB, and the much quieter experiment in dance revival - unauthorized performances of Pina Bausch, Deborah Hay and Richard Bull at Ivy Studio 206.



“Oh, you know—baby oil, horsetail butt plug, ‘Twenty-five Poses for Top and Bottom’—just the usual.”

All right, perhaps this show—Dim All the Lights, at the Bryant Lake Bowl—went a bit farther than most, but I have seen a lot of sex and sexuality on stage in the last year or so. The BLB’s Pleasure Rebel series, Judith Howard’s Dressage solo for Nic Lincoln, Johan Amselem’s recent ruckus, Chris Schlichting’s show last fall—all go beyond skin (or skirt it entirely) to desire. Dimly, I suspect the marriage amendment[s] may be at the bottom of it: these dances glory in shredding politicians’ tidy categories. What if I desire this? these dances say, or So what if I desire this?—and then they go on to make you want it too.

What most makes want in Dim All the Lights is Dustin Maxwell’s stellar solo, “Open Frontier,” in which Maxwell, an addictive mover, enters as a cowboy and goes out a stallion. Elastic in red long johns and a cowboy hat, Maxwell rolls his shoulders, slouches, shoots, and rides hard, rein-hand and flexed chest exerting an eerie control over the animal self that provides the accelerating drive. What’s real here? The marveling eye says, All of it.

What’s real was also at issue cross-town, in a much quieter show at the Ivy Studios in which Non Edwards, Emily Gastineau, and Erika Hansen gave unauthorized performances of dances by Pina Bausch, Deborah Hay, and Richard Bull. Viewers were free to come and go during the two hours of dance, which this viewer did after one round of solos, not realizing the next round would be different—i.e., Bausch delivered from a chair, a different taped set of directions for Erika Hansen. Like battle flags, a flurry of questions were raised: What is a dance?, How does choreography change over time?, Who has the right to a dance? For me, the questions remained mostly bare sticks. Hansen’s winsome interaction with her tape did the most to disrupt time, place, and property: She talked back as if the taped speaker were live, did her level best for her absent coach (who, in some tapes, was not even addressing her at all), and said goodbye sadly at the end.

Edwards, Gastineau, and Hansen did succeed in setting people talking, though the reaction was largely conservative. “Dancers own so little,” one person said, implying that it was rather low to take the dances without permission. “What about the inside of the dance?” someone asked about Edwards’s take on Pina Bausch; his emotional choreography did look a bit flat (even if Edwards’s buttery spine was anything but). I got sentimental thinking about how I had learned the dances I’ve learned, how they came with history and inside knowledge, how learning them set me in a lineage that stretched back sometimes for more than a hundred years. But I get that my nostalgia for my privilege does not in itself justify that privilege—and so did everyone else who was kvetching.     

Anyway, both weekend shows were cast in the shade by the oncoming glory of the Minnesota Contemporary Dance Platform, a not-open-to-the-public presenter fest that sprawls across this week, with back-to-back showings all over town. Everyone was nervous, thinking of their showings, and tired in advance as they stared down the barrel of a week of “happy” hour.

But who cares about the future? The here-and-now is always more interesting; I might even offer that as a tentative definition of dance. In this here and now, you could witness Emily Gastineau walking backward in a circle of thick thought, Gregory Grube (in Dim All the Lights) getting pretty naked and shiny and casting himself forward into your eyes, his pure faith in the theatrical gesture, her intellectual castle in the air.


Noted events:

 Dim All the Lights: A Shared Evening of High Fidelity Movement, featuring work by Dustin Maxwell and the Cohorts (Gregory Grube, Megan Katz, Marina Kelly) on September 14 and 15 at Bryant Lake Bowl, Minneapolis.

Bausch, Bull, Edwards, Gastineau, Hansen, and Hay for which Non Edwards, Emily Gastineau, and Erika Hansen performed solo dances by Pina Bausch, Deborah Hay, and Richard Bull – took place at Studio 206 in the Ivy Building for the Arts, Minneapolis, September 13, 14 and 15.


About the author: Originally from Tallahassee, Lightsey Darst is a poet, dance writer, and adjunct instructor at various Twin Cities colleges. Her manuscript Find the Girl was recently published by Coffee House; she has also been awarded a 2007 NEA Fellowship.