This is probably the weirdest experience I have had throughout the whole festival.
I am saying this not because the piece itself is weird but because it resembles my latest piece Interbeing too much. I have been joking with my friends that Carrying Capacity is the black version of Interbeing but frankly it has never been a joke (in fact, there is more truth in a joke than in truth itself but that is another blog post). Thus, it seems impossible to me to not write about this piece through the juxtaposition with my own choreographic voice, unless I assume the authoritative position of a performance reviewer.
On the aesthetics level, similar to me Wendell Cooper also attempts to build his own immersive universe, situated within a very dark, colorful and messy installation by sculptor Jasmine Murrell. The visual of the piece appears to be ominous, fierce and somewhat extra-terrestrial, as opposed to the light and bubbly feeling of Interbeing, setting the stage for his embarkment upon a “speculative journey mixing the sacred and the profane”. In a sense, he is exploring a utopia where the fullness (i.e. the capacity) of the self can be fully carried without being limited by the boundaries (even though I would want to challenge his perspective at blurring boundaries through a binarized lens instead of delving into a world of multiplicities). It is a world where he can both “sacredly” meditate and “profanely” vogue and rap, a world where he can openly challenge the compartmentalization of the self in order to further its potentiality:
“The soul is invoked, gender is rendered ephemeral, and together we contemplate, in celebration, the sometimes unfortunate profundity of embodiment.”
However, this is where Wendell Cooper and I diverge in our choreographic investigation. In Carrying Capacity, the choreographer’s interest seems to lie in a spiritual world that transcends the daily reality, perhaps a more-than reality, where he can go deeper into the ontology of the body, to contemplate on the social containers that we have constructed for our bodies such as gender (or I am wondering if the choreographer would include race in this statement and why he did not). Hence, the 10-minute ritual meditation at the beginning serves as gateway into this more-than reality, taking the mind and the consciousness of the audience to a hyper-aware state (that is if they are willing to let go of their spectatorship mode and to enter the experiential layer that he is proposing).
On the other hand, the spiritual exploration is more of a (inter-)personal process for me and for my ensemble, as I hope to engage in a more-than reality in the rehearsal rather than in the product itself. Consequently, Interbeing appears to me to be a very direct fuck-you towards the institution, be it the dance institution or the social construction of the body, whereas Carrying Capacity builds its own elaborate utopia where the body can be presented in its fullness, thus opening up an alternative that can serve as a critique of the here and now. Perhaps, all I am saying is that there is something more ripe and polished in Cooper’s work as he has really honed his research topic, which in turn makes Interbeing looks rather impatient but precocious and ambitious. To be frank, I am more than flattered to see that, or at least assume that I am, or more accurately I was on a similar wavelength with an established choreographer in the field.
I was going to end right there with that rather positive note but something really bugs me after writing this article. It makes me think of how corrupt and ungenerous the whole field of dance critique is, which is a generally-accepted and universally-resented norm amongst dance artists because of how much power these critics can yield. The underlying thread of a critique is whether or not the readers should go and see that performance, or in other words, whether the performance is good or bad. It is then supported by “evidence”, which is generally detailed description and big words that would then render the writing piece an authoritative voice, despite the constant use of the subjective “I”. That is something that needs to change, a change that artists themselves should start thinking about by perhaps writing about their own practice and having the agency in steering the narratives about their works. Moreover, this figure of the critic needs to be vehemently attacked because of the extreme emphasis on vision, on seeing dance without rigorously delving into the bodies themselves, without excavating what the bodies are politically and ontologically doing. Seeing is deceiving – if I am seeing a work that is so similar to mine am I in a position to judge? or should I ever judge anyone’s works? All I can do is to assume, to theorize, to open up questions, to enter into a discussion and to hopefully empower works that needs to be empowered to then generate changes in people’s ways of thinking.
The perfect dance critic writes in a way that is contemporaneous with the time we are living in.
The perfect dance critic knows when it’s time to quit, change careers or retire.
– Miguel Gutierrez, for full essay visit: http://www.miguelgutierrez.org/words/the-perfect-dance-critic/
Images sourced through American Realness website and Wendell Cooper’s vimeo account.