The Generosity of an Older Generation

By Emmaly Wiederholt

It’s the difference between showing and sharing, the difference between displaying everything and hiding nothing, the difference between proving you have the guts to make a fool out of yourself and indifferently playing the fool. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of intention or maturity, or perhaps an intention that comes with maturity, but there’s something about performers who have spent a lifetime being watched. They have a certain simplicity and immediacy in their stage presence, a sense of having nothing to prove and all the time in the world to prove it in.

I’ve recently been privileged enough to enjoy two performances featuring veterans of the dance field:  Eiko and Koma’s “Retrospective Project” and Jess Curtis with Angus Balbernie in “Jess Meets Angus”. In contrast to the vast majority of youth-centric dance, these two shows stood out in that they not only were conceived and created by older well-established artists, but they were also performed by older well-established artists.

Eiko and Koma’s bare sixty-something bodies, their minimalistic movement, and their seeming disregard for pace and time combined to create an intensely concentrated experience. They made their own rules and then broke them over and over again. I literally sat perched on the edge of my seat with my breath held, not daring to wonder what would happen next.

“Jess Meets Angus” felt similarly concentrated. At one point Balbernie stood facing the audience and looked each of us in turn in the eye. It was thrilling and scary: though his gaze felt warm and inviting it was at the same time intensely unbearable.

Often dance feels the need to show audience its capability. ODC’s recent shows at YBCA felt so charged with the desire to show off their dancers’ abilities I missed the simple intimacy that can pass from performer to viewer when the performers’ technical ability is almost of inconsequence because their ability is inherent. In a similar vein, Mica Sigourney’s recent audaciously-named “Masterwork” came across as so loud and brazen I generally felt numbed. It was only at the end of the piece when the content sifted down to its bare essentials that I truly felt I experienced Sigourney’s intention. The difference between showing and sharing is subtle but exaggerated in performance; one involves an element of “wow” and another is completely beyond wowing.

Obviously veteran dancers and dance-makers have had a lot of time to perfect the craft of simply sharing their work, but I wonder if there’s something to take and apply from their wisdom. It is something I crave for myself as an artist, to dispel the need to show off, be good, and put out and instead to simply share with the audience. I am inspired by the example set by the older generation of dancers performing today, that one can be engaging and enticing through simply being oneself.

Photo by Edwin Adhiputra and Meyers Original

One Response to “The Generosity of an Older Generation”

  1. bayareadancewatch

    One of the highlights of Jess & Angus, was the fact they didn’t use any props at all. They didn’t even use the lights as props. Their words & bodies were their props. Goes along with what you’re writing about here. In the end, these guys make all of us older folks look good 🙂

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