Living While Dying: dying and dying and dying
Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
September 15, 2017
According to choreographer Maria Bauman, the work is a meditation on various kinds of endings, positive and negative. Bauman, Gibney Dance’s 2017 Community Action Artist in Residence, says she feels charged with alive-ness while at the same time embracing the paradox of multiple deaths happening every moment; dying and dying and dying is the result of dancing that paradox.
Bauman, together with Courtney Cook, Valerie Ifill, Alicia Raquel, and Audrey Hailes, often sing while dancing as they convey that we with death from the moment of birth. Before the performance began, the audience was invited to walk around the stage viewing and touching mementos of ancestors. Even before entering the theater, the lobby attempted to set the tone with a gallery installation titled To Rest, a mix of visual art and video.
During the talkback afterwards, much of the conversation centered on capitalism, seen here as the frenetic opposite of the stillness of dying (or so we were told—it didn’t strike me that way.) During the capitalism section of the work the women, who earlier danced together in harmony, angrily attacked and fought one another as screen projections included a series of numbers series I puzzled over thinking they might relate to HIV/AIDS or war deaths. Images in the same series included portraits and logos meant to convey commercialism like that of an oil and gas company. Later projections of flowers bursting forth into bloom presumably invoke life, the other side of death; the inclusion of a dying bird went over my head. Bauman speaks of the need to carve out physical space for stillness and the importance of a deeper understanding of death amid the hurlyburly of capitalism but I grasped this more from the talk than from the work as performed.
Costumes by Nicole Cameron and Bauman included tie-on skirts with brightly colored hanging strips of fabric, meant to invoke parts of Africa. Some movements were African in spirit as was music like the spiritual “Run, Mary, Run.” A sequence beginning with off- stage sobbing embodied reactions to death.
All five dancers work very hard, earnestly trying to portray different images of and approaches to death. It’s a worthy effort but as a performance piece, intentions don’t always match actualization leaving me more bewildered than moved. If knowing that the theater was built over the African Burial Ground so that some deaths are “always among us,” is important, it would be illuminating to point that out, possibly via a program note, before the start of the work rather than as a seeming afterthought during the talkback. I don’t doubt the heartfelt emotions Bauman and her colleagues feel or the effort they have put into creating and performing this work. However, I found the ideas hard to fathom and wish the spirit of creating space for death had been a bit more obvious. Bauman wants to interrupt capitalism which she equates with her “internalized prioritizing of doing more and faster.” She’s sincere and talented and one can only hope for her continued success, perhaps with added clarification.