Performing Arts: Dance
November 13, 2018
Our media-saturated, attention-deficit, youth-driven culture makes something very touching, even sweetly tender, out of watching mature women with deep knowledge and experience share their meditations onstage. Both Emily Coates and Emmanuele Phuon (sharing a program at Danspace) were conceptually rigorous, engaging, and supported by collaborators with their own impressive backgrounds. But it was the act of physicalizing thoughts and theory, the uncanny combination seeing past, present and future embodied, the visualization of abstractions as well as realities of life, without pretension, that made the evening a memorable one.
Coates and Yale physicist Sarah Demers have been collaborating for some time and have co-authored a book on physics and dance (forthcoming from Yale University Press). A History of Light brings together their knowledge across disciplines to highlight connections, such as the simple idea that the ballerina Vera Karalli is still with us (via films) through the magical use of light. There is plenty of humor – Ms. Demers remarks that although she is a particle physicist, she’s not sure what a particle is… and Josiah McElheny (a sculptor, performance artist and collaborator interested in expanding notions of modernism) makes us laugh out loud when he describes the edge of the cosmos by bunny-jumping backwards into the recesses of the stage space.
More seriously, Ms. Coates evokes light though the use of her hands and gestures, eyeline, and the steady stream of movement in her solos. She juxtaposed past and present by folding into bodily shapes and contortions on a foam mattress, right underneath a film of Karalli dancing the Dying Swan. Somehow, these series of images came across as related.
In another post-postmodern segment titled Bits and Pieces (Choreographic Donations), Emmanuele Phuon’s autobiographical dance took us from her days as a child refugee, to her arrival in NYC, to dancing for Elisa Monte, to her fears of looking fat, to sobering references to ethnic cleansing, to lying prostrate on her back while chirping like a bird, among other adventures. Supported by her fellow performer and sound designer Zai Tang, through movement and spoken word Ms. Phuon weaves a compelling narrative that is both intensely personal and vast in its references to the outside world. Her use of voice at one point reminded me of Meredith Monk’s strange and expressive ululations. Yet what could have been a tedious relaying of memories turned into an absorbing journey we gladly end up taking with her.
Dance’s inherent interdisciplinarity continually attracts thinkers and makers in other disciplines. Coates, Phuon, and their collaborators showed, once again, how dance is more, always more, than just its purported sensuous physicality.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY — Nicole Duffy Robertson