There seems to be a vacuum that opens up in Togetherness. That is a true statement taken alone. The italics indicate that we’re talking about Danielle Ross’ latest work, which debuted this week at Bodyvox.
This work extends from an idea rooted in historical narrative, building from actual and fictitious stories, and considers the eventual mythologizing of people that leave impressive marks within their lifetime. Especially duos.
The performers work in duos, solos, and other combinations, but unlike a lot of contemporary dance, this piece does not look at tension and conflict all that much. It wants to give you something else.
Very few signifiers of relationship break through mostly unified movement on stage. The difference between each performer is their face and their presence. A duo might be objectively the same, equal in step, but not in emotion. It is subtle. A character’s personality or identity is unveiled mostly when they appear for a solo. There is a lot of gesturing and posturing then.
Actually, gesturing runs through it, even the unison stuff. The work is not really fluid, neither structurally nor from step to step. I noticed this about Danielle in the past, having watched her several times before, she almost dances like a poem breathes. This work especially starts, stops, and transitions without a sense of resolution or suspense—at least not in a manner that I could engage with.
Gender seems to be blurred. Of the five dancers all but one are women, but I sometimes had to squint to be sure. Costumes are each alike. They give me a sense of ancient Egyptian and medieval European. The androgynous uniformity gave me this feeling that they are neither male nor female or perhaps switch roles. The work is void of sexuality other than the inherent sensuality involved with dance.
Narration is mostly poetry without a beginning or ending, some recurrence, but no real direction. It is immersive. It is dream-like. Sound design offers the very sonic blanket necessary to keep things warm and moody. The personal dynamic between dancers sometimes breaks through, making contact, working in counterpoint, but the cold separation between performers relied on sound and voice to find its glue.
Lighting and stage design is stark, emphasizing void. It is effective however. The dream-like atmosphere is complete with that. Simple ideas can take that void and produce a rich texture, such as toward the end, with shimmering gold strewn about the floor; the dim light illuminates its texture, activating the space.
Danielle Ross is a young and developing choreographer working with Stacey Tran (narration), Jesse Mejia (sound design), Atum Aron (costume), James Mapes (lighting), and several dancers both seasoned and young. The work reflects her hard-working ethic and that young voice still learning how to speak the dimensional language that avant-garde performance brings with it.
The work is rigorous and deeply considered. It is disciplined and serious. The performers are Mike Barber, Erin Kraemer, Katherine Longstreth, Ruth Nelson, and Vanessa Vogel, and were able to come together thanks to the togetherness of crowd sourcing and a grant from RACC.
One Take Away
Because election week had come to pass, politics became the dominant mode of relationship in my psyche. The choreography kept stirring up ideas about politicians and the dance they perform to keep their office. It really is a unison thing: the candidates trump for cash and votes on two sides of a coin, but they gesture and posture this notion that there is something unique happening between yourself and them—that they know you and your story.
Perhaps Togetherness expresses something about the inherent dispossession of relationship: we are together doing the same things, but we will always be alone and conducting only ourselves. The aloneness of selfhood, in a way, is like politics: we only have ourselves to govern and your elected government shall dispossess you eventually. They act from disconnection; they do not know whom you really are, even if they have your bulk metadata.
Another Take Away
My humble but well positioned apartment overlooks huge swaths of inner-Portland and a clear view of the Fremont Bridge. I observe the daily routine of rush hour. At the crack of dawn the bridge is jammed with thousands of commuters.
My west-facing window offers a clear view through the glass walls of The Civic. After the workday is through, I see flat televisions on the same wall in all the different apartments, and sometimes I notice that almost everyone is watching the same channel.
All in unison, the masses go about living their stories, doing the same thing as the next one while living as if totally unique. Watching Togetherness reminded me of that feeling of standing a hundred feet up, watching the city and its people tell a story. I am the observer, I am involved in the story, but it has nothing to do with me; it is more that I relate, that I project in to it. My relationship is fragmented and incomplete, but poetic and awesome.