Freedom through Constraint

By Emmaly Wiederholt

As a generalization, dancers seek freedom, both in range of motion and in expression. We constantly seek to push our boundaries, giving ourselves the greatest variety of choices available. However in the past few weeks I’ve seen three shows that made me reconsider the role of constraint and impediment in dance: Bad Unkl Sista’s “First Breath- Last Breath”, AXIS Dance Company and Marc Brew’s “Full of Words”, and inkboat’s “The Crazy Cloud Collection.”

Bad Unkl Sista’s “First Breath- Last Breath” featured an aerial dancer who had recently broken both her feet after falling from her apparatus a month and a half before the show. Nevertheless, she performed in the show, wheeled out in a wheelchair with both feet in casts before slowly and cautiously raising herself into the air. I was fascinated watching her body cope with her disability, as it seemed I saw her physical intention more clearly than had she been fully able to seamlessly perform her aerial routine.

With these thoughts in mind I saw AXIS Dance Company perform “Full of Words”, a piece choreographed by Marc Brew who himself is in a wheelchair. AXIS is well-known as a physically integrated dance company that features both able-bodied and disabled dancers, so I expected to have similar thoughts regarding increased intention through physical impediments. “Full of Words” divided the stage into three sections: a table with chairs, a bathtub, and a huge reclining armchair. And while it was indeed engaging to watch the dancers move through their limitations, what was far more powerful for me was the effect of the furniture on the choreography. It was another constraint, only this time in the form of a spatial impediment than a physical impediment. As the dancers maneuvered around the furniture, the dance became infinitely more engaging than had they been dancing in open space. The furniture gave the piece context and an impetus for movement.

In a workshop last week with inkboat’s Shinichi Iova-Koga at the SF Conservatory of Dance, participants paired up and held parts of each other’s bodies in place in an effort to discover other avenues of moving (for example:  my leg is held in place, but I can find range of movement in my torso instead), eventually imagining different parts of the body being held in place without the aid of a partner. The resulting movement, though informed through a mentally-imposed constriction, patterned and layered the dance differently than had the dancers moved freely about the space. Later I saw inkboat perform “The Crazy Cloud Collection” in collaboration with renowned Butoh artist Ko Murobushi. Once again my mind wandered back to the idea of freedom through constraint. Murobushi’s body held such extreme exactness and sensitivity; the mental constrictions he placed on his movement became tangibly manifested to the audience. No movement felt random or ill-considered. Every crook in the arm and tilt of the head existed within a limited framework of mind.

Whether physical, spatial or mentally-imposed constraints, a dancer becomes increasingly engaging to watch as a result of the increased awareness in the body constraints bring. Though we can feel hyper aware of ourselves in space, when there is a table in the room, we can’t move our foot, or we give ourselves mental guidelines to move by, we have to find other avenues for movement, finding freedom of expression in ways we may never have known.

Photos taken by Andrea Basile and Pak Han

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