I arrive at St. Marks Church and see people waiting in its courtyard. I immediately understand that this is another sold-out evening of Parallels. I get in and find one of the few seats left available. The performance that night was planned to start 15 minutes earlier than the usual time in order to present the screening of excerpts from Check your Body at the Door, a short film by the dance historian and critic Sally Sommer. This lengthily planned project takes the form of a documentary focusing on the reality of club dancers, a reality which seems not to find a place neither in parallel nor in the shadow of “professional” dancers. Club dancers express themselves in a different context: that of the darkness, of an underground space where all movements are allowed, without right or wrong, where different personal and cultural backgrounds come inevitably to the dance floor. An Asian dancer admits to the camera, “I like to use my fingers,” a detailed movement often encountered in the various styles of Asian dance. Another dancer expresses his thoughts looking at the camera “a ballet dancer would say ‘This is not real dance,’” bringing us exactly to the question that hovered in the atmosphere for the entire evening: So what is real dance? Who can define it and include or exclude types, styles, and movements into the realm of “real” dance?
“Check your Body at the Door” encourages the audience to leave presumptions, theories, concepts, concerns and restrictions at the door and enter the space with a deliberated body and mind.
Thus, the evening of performances starts with the young and talented Regina Rocke. Boy Troubles is a piece choreographically easy to follow but captivating for its simplicity and theatricality emanated from the two performers, Regina Rocke and Niall Jones. Both choreographers and dancers are from those figures in the dance scene that are not to be missed as they constitute a surprise in every appearance and are certainly a joy to see together on stage. Rocke travels in the space with her agile body and clean movements. The moment arrives when the two performers look at one another and slowly start to unbutton their shirts enough to expose their chests. Here a statement seems to be made, a meaning to be transmitted, and I wonder: Is it to underline the black body? Is it a comment made from a feminist perspective? They keep dancing together for a while until Rocke remains in the space alone again, dancing around without her beloved one.
The atmosphere changes when Nicholas Leichter and Bryan Strimpel enter the stage to perform excerpts from their work-in-progress Twenty Twenty. They start with a wonderful duet where the two bodies seem to engage into a silent conversation. Then the solos take their turn where the virtuosity of each performer comes fully to light. Fluid movements intersect with sharp, clean cuts. A sequence that impresses but probably lasts too long to keep your attention. I witness a dance that mingles hip hop, break dance, modern dance, street dance, club dance and I wonder once again whether there is a definition of real dance.
Niall Jones comes to emphasize the ambiguity and impossibility of this question with his piece forget it. Discontinuity, like a theater with no script, a story without a determined ending, characterizes the piece. However, forget it manages to capture your interest and makes you keep watching, questioning the meaning of it all, how it will end, making you asking for more. During the performances I kept thinking whether the pieces were presented in order of appearance so as to justify the title of the evening From the Streets, From the Clubs, From the Houses. Is forget it a live example of the dances coming “From the Houses”? Isn’t this the kind of improvisation one does at home and then forgets? I was about to find out.
It actually cannot belong anywhere because it belongs everywhere and is informed by all: the Streets, the Clubs, the Houses. Isn’t this real dance? Or if one wants to be narrow-minded and think that it is not, then just ask yourself: Doesn’t this dance inform and influence what we want to define as “real” dance? Thus, everything makes a circle that brings us back to the initial film. So, “Check your Body at the Door” and reconsider what you think “real” dance (truly) is.
Danai Giannakopoulou for MAE Dance, March 2012