Kelley Donovan and Dancers in ‘The Body Becomes The Messenger’: Many messages, many bodies

Kelley Donovan and Dancers in 'The Body Becomes The Messenger'. Photo by Charles Daniels Photography.

Saturday, March 12, 2016.

The Dance Complex, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Our body is constantly sending us messages. Other people’s bodies send us messages. In our brain-dominated culture, however, we don’t always listen. We grow up being told to study hard, to do our homework – and, oh yes, to stay physically active, but that comes after homework. This mindset spreads to our work and personal lives as we grow older. Then comes those days when we have no choice but to truly listen to our body – when pain, soreness, tension, tightness or other uncomfortable physical effects become severe enough that we can no longer ignore them.

As dancers, part of our training is to become attuned to physical sensations. We know how to listen to our body, but we don’t always react accordingly. For instance, we push through pain and fatigue in order to maximize training time and to perform at our potentials. We experience those days, too, however, when our body refuses to be ignored any longer.

Kelley Donovan and Dancers in 'The Body Becomes The Messenger'. Photo by Charles Daniels Photography.

Kelley Donovan and Dancers in ‘The Body Becomes The Messenger’. Photo by Charles Daniels Photography.

Kelley Donovan and Dancers’ The Body Becomes The Messenger considers these issues through intriguing and innovative choreography, sensitive and committed performances, and multi-faceted technical elements. Donovan, lead choreographer and company founder, came to focus on the idea of our body’s messages, potentials and needs after facing challenges continuing with her active choreography and dance education work when coping with significant medical issues.

To begin the piece, low lighting came up on a solo dancer. A mysterious tone built as she moved in abstract shapes, with an intriguing mix of slow and pulsating rhythms. Lights gradually came up on other dancers around her. Space became a theme as the dancers moved from high to low space, then back again. In one particularly compelling phrase, two dancers were in high space while another was in low, and then that pattern reversed. The electronica-style music also had many tonal high and lows, fast and slow rhythms. In those ways, it paralleled, and through that supported, the multi-faceted movement.

As another compelling movement theme, the choreography seemed to blend a quality of snaki-ness with one of spiraling movement. The dancers managed to make these seemingly contradictory movement qualities come together in the movement. That movement lived its own life in each of their bodies. It was beautiful and refreshing to see each dancer’s individuality in these ways, yet unison moments could have been more strongly unified (in terms of timing and quality of executing movement). Otherwise, the dancers were fully committed to and living in the movement, their very audible breaths indicating their physical investment in performing.

Prominent choreographic elements included attitudes, extensions and more inwardly-directed spiraling movement. The phrasework compellingly re-shifted and rearranged these elements, so that the same movements repeated did not grow old. With the combination of the dancers’ full commitment to the movement and each of them putting forth their unique movement signatures, combined with the intelligently crafted choreography, it was a visual feast. Beyond that, I took in the movement, the dancers’ breaths, the music and the intriguing lighting through all senses. It was truly a sensory feast but not an overwhelming or inaccessible one.

Kelley Donovan and Dancers in 'The Body Becomes The Messenger'. Photo by Charles Daniels Photography.

Kelley Donovan and Dancers in ‘The Body Becomes The Messenger’. Photo by Charles Daniels Photography.

As another theme beginning to compellingly emerge, I saw celestial bodies in the formations. There were dancers orbiting others. There were dancers drawn into the spaces and paths of others, as if by gravitational pull. For instance, at one point the dancers were all in one line facing the audience. One by one, dancers began to spin off toward the other end of the line with spiraling and turning movements. The dancer next in line behind him/her would follow, without eye contact or hesitation – a sense of natural automation.

More toward the end, another intriguing formation change was from dancers all in one long line (traveling from up to downstage) to various lines of their own traveling back and forth between left and right stage. As they came to their own lines, they broke into running. There was a sense of peaceful integration turning into individualized chaos. That created an idea of strength and stability in unity but insecurity and uncertainty in traveling alone. Thinking back to the title, I began to think about how our body thrives when all is integrated and in balance. When we try to have our mind, heart and soul work without addressing our body’s needs and concerns, it becomes a battle against ourselves. Only in true union of all of parts of ourselves can we be at our strongest and best.  

While these factors intrigued me, I was also curious about who these dancers were. As they entered and exited, where were they going to and from? What motivated them to frequently change pairings/groupings and formations? Their gazes were strong and assured in the directions of their travel (although not always toward each other), so it seemed like those places were specific and sure. Then, I could release into the idea that it’s about the body – its possibilities, its needs, its yearnings – as it moves through space. And that’s more than enough. When we can appreciate that fact, we’re more likely, I think, to respect our body for all it has to offer and teach us. We’re more likely to truly listen to, rather than just hear, our body. Imagine what a world it could be if more of us could learn to do that more often?

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Kelley Donovan and Dancers in ‘The Body Becomes The Messenger’. Photo by Charles Daniels Photography.

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