Your Mother Dances’ “Stripped Roundly”: Raw and close
Costumes and sets can be helpful in dance, but they are mere accoutrements. Sometimes, they get in the way of the physical force of the body in motion. In Stripped Roundly, which Elizabeth Johnson’s Your Mother Dances company opened Friday, movement and interaction of bodies alone, with a little help from the music, convey meaning. The program comprises vignettes rife with resonant movement and short on theatrical niceties. You could not but marvel at the physicality of dancers placed right in front of you in the intimate chamber dance theater at UWM.
Johnson staged two of her own pieces and one by Luc Vanier at the center of an audience seated in the round in a black box theater in Mitchell Hall. Chairs lined the curtained walls. Thus the performance is unique based upon your choice of seat. The set-up also blurs the line between audience and performer. Sometimes, you could stretch out a hand and touch a dancer.
Johnson’s The Grey Side and Impulsive Minors are perfect for this intimacy. The Grey Side is a moving, tender exploration of death, grief and the human need for comfort and support. The dancers sing and recite fragments of Japanese death haiku as they comfort each other at deathbeds and in the aftermath. In Impulsive Minors, Johnson interprets seven Chopin Nocturnes as scenes from an adolescent mind. Siblings, for example, is a playful wrestling match for three. I’m not touching you captures the youthful impulse to skirt the line of acceptable behavior by adhering to the letter of a rule and not the spirit.
Vanier’s piece is the most abstract in this show. His Deflating Debussy reflects his year of studying and deconstructing the head and shoulder movements of classical ballet in order to better teach them, and this piece is part of that exploration. It is also an endurance contest for the dancers.
All of the dances in Stripped Roundly are intense and difficult. In the small, close theater, you feel the effort of dancing this fantastic movement. Hearing labored breathing in the spaces between musical notes and seeing sweat fly from the rapidly moving bodies of strangers is not something we experience in our everyday lives. Johnson and Vanier have given us art that is uncomfortable on top of its beauty, and maybe that’s way art ought to be.
Stripped Roundly shows in Mitchell Hall 254 on the UWM Campus on Friday, Sept. 23-Tuesday, Sept. 27. Concerts begin at 7:30 each night, with addition matinees at 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Donation of $10 at the door.