In the lit house, the following lines are projected onstage:
“There will be an intense amount of activity
in a confined space—
stone, noise, dust, machines, hammers, hands—
followed by stillness,
then high drama.”*
Since this adequately summarizes the structure of boulders and bones, a new collaboration between Brenda Way and KT Nelson for ODC that premiered March 20 at the YBCA, I feel no need to document a chronological record of experience.
When the lights go down, a film by RJ Muna plays, a time-lapse sequence of the construction of Andy Goldsworthy’s Culvert Cairn, an arch implanted into the side of a mountain, the most manmade of imprints camouflaged by the colorless stone. We watch as dust flies, the individuality of rocks hewn away into uniform blocks capable of evenly bearing weight. This is civilization at work: progress and reduction, the smoothing and tightening of community through a necessary friction. (We are fortunately spared the screaming of the saw, the clap of stone on stone. Instead we get the mesmerizing strains of Zoë Keating playing the cello with herself, layering and manipulating melodies with a looping pedal and a laptop, all the while enthroned within a circular structure nestled beneath the image of the arch.) As the film runs, two dancers (Jeremy Smith and Maggie Stack) sit in an array of slim wooden rods, which he peruses and she places them, twig by twig, until she’s made a miniature edifice. Humans: the idea of order, the will to create.
Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari write in One Thousand Plateaus (trans. Brian Massumi):
All faces envelop an unknown, unexplored landscape; all landscapes are populated by a loved or dreamed-of face, develop a face to come or already past. What face has not called upon the landscapes it amalgamated, sea and hill; what landscape has not evoked the face that would have completed it, providing an unexpected complement for its lines and traits?
Even after the aggression of civilization, the force of culture to alienate us from ourselves, the growing concept of life on earth as urban life, we desire to see ourselves in the nature that created us, even in the event that we must forcibly lodge an image of ourselves there. In boulders and bones, such a desire seems to be embodied in the small figure of Anne Zivolich, who first appears paraded above the stage like a totem by several men, who later returns as an apparition in red projected on the scrim, and who dances a solo that begins in complete silence, filling the space with the angles her body makes with conscious clarity, accelerating into spirals.
The rest of the piece is filled with movements that at times seem inspired by construction equipment (one image that recurs involves a dancer, arms spread, walking at a line of others, who are steamrollered by her impervious progress forward), ice dancing (one dancer swooping another in a gravity-defying, low-to-the-ground pike—beautiful, but why?), and janitorial duties (the men pushing the women around on the floor like mops, everyone crawling on the floor like Caillebotte’s Floor Scrapers). The dancers hurl dust on each other, then toss off plumes as they dance it off.
At the end of the piece, Dennis Adams approaches Zivolich from behind, throws a fistful of dust on her hair, and touches her face, a moment that hints at the possibility of intimacy, that other thing that we believe makes us human. It somehow doesn’t feel like enough.
ODC/Dance presents ODC/Dance Downtown March 20-30, 2014 at the Lam Research Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
* I’m aware that a block quotation does not require quotation marks but the projected lines themselves had the marks, so I reproduce them here. I don’t know the source.