Jamestown Arts Center, Jamestown, RI.
August 18, 2022.
When was the last time you truly enjoyed the moment – in a way that’s deeper than greeting cards and calendar quotes mean? I’m talking about truly noticing the treasures present around us right here, right now — those which the pressures and fears of frenetic modern life can lead us to all too easily overlook. It’s different for all of us, but for me, dance – both viewing it and moving it through my own body – is what gets me more deeply connected with the moment.
With technical command, soulful investment, and an Exhibit A of the “less is more” ethos, Ali Kenner Brodsky’s Moments reminded me just how much the art of dance can ground us in the moment – in all of its wonder and potential. Rich and deeply intentional, the work’s seemingly simple choices created containers for much deeper, more dynamic meaning.
The space (graphics by Cyrus Highsmith) was the first thing that caught my attention (well, I was in it a good 10 minutes before the work started – yet it was still noteworthy). Hanging on one wall were long cloth panels, white but with grey oblong shapes – clear but with shadowy haziness at the edges, like stones at the bottom of a pristine stream. Other panels on perpendicular walls mirrored those panels.
Before that wall was a single, unassuming bench. Minimalist, yet with enough detail to pique my curiosity, the space was a lovely container for the work to come – snug and intimate, but with the flexibility and openness to let the work breathe on its own.
The musician (MorganEve Swain) sat perpendicular to the bench. She began to play – light, easy instrumental with a pinch of Appalachian twang – as two dancers (Jessi Stegall and Ilya Vidrin) entered to begin the work. The dancers walked in rhythm with the score, holding hands, in clear geometric paths. Gradually, they added elements such as small hops, slides, weight shifts forward and back – meeting other layers within the score.
They luxuriated in it all: taking their time and enjoying the experience they were in. The stylized pedestrian nature of their movement was also more than enough here – no jaw-dropping athleticism remotely necessary. In a frenetic world ruled by digital clocks, and getting more done within their boundaries, to witness that is refreshing to say in the least.
Eventually, Kenner Brodsky’s choreography added in more “dancey” flourishes: small extensions, shaped gestures, sharing momentum back and forth between the partners. This additive movement contributed texture, and kept it all from being stale and repetitive. The movement’s minimalist, pedestrian spirit stayed alive and vibrant, however: evolving and transitioning as easefully as how we walk down the street or pass dishes around a dinner table.
Just as natural and definitive were interpersonal and emotional flavors within the movement: little hip articulations making me giggle to myself (humorous in a way that you just had to be there for), a shift into something more gestural and with something deeper between them at hand.
With a pulsating violin stroke, another dancer (Scott McPheeters) entered. The movement remained largely minimalist and pedestrian, although with deep lunges and touches of intricate footwork. Each step, each shift of gaze, each spinal articulation added energetic resonance. His kinetic momentum never stopped circulating – movement pathways continually shifting themselves into new pathways. With his assuredness and physical grace, an unspoken mood of determination and perseverance filled the air: a definite change from the lighthearted feel of the prior section.
Stegall re-entered the space. McPheeters saw her and walked off – but there was a moment of unspoken connection in the interregnum. It was one of those moments in abstract concert dance that offer space for audiences to imagine their own narrative possibilities: projections of their own lives, possibilities less outside their own experiences, or something in between the two.
Stegall sat on the bench, hunched over like a shy child on the outskirts of a playground (or even an adult feeling heavy with the weight of recent news). Vidrin came to join her, first mirroring her. The two of them gradually shifted to a less weighted physicality – such that they came to sit with a lighter, more hopeful bearing. A game between them arose as they articulated fingers and wrists in fresh gesture, wriggled to and away from each other through their spines.
Playful notes developed in the score to meet that change in tone, slowly evolving like a stream of hope beginning to trickle over dry earth. That playfulness grew, until it again shifted into something more tender and reflective. They touched foreheads, he put a hand softly to the base of her neck: such simple movement speaking so much.
Suddenly coming to me was a question, maybe one without a clear answer: If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much are moving pictures in space worth – those bursting with unspoken emotion and meaning? Me getting to such a place, in my mind and spirit, speaks to the intentional quality of Kenner Brodsky’s choreography and the performers’ honest investment in their work. It all lay in each full, multifaceted moment.
Then came a solo for Stegall: more breath-driven, accented, and angular than her prior dancing in the work. She even fell to the ground at points: in resignation, in frustration, in exhaustion? That’s something else that audience members could fill in with the colors of their own imaginings. One could imagine that her interaction with Vidrin’s character brought something new out in her – something far apart from the woman curled into herself, sitting on the bench alone, gaze internal and signaling deep uncertainty.
Whatever it was, her movement and presence felt honest to where she was in the moment – an honesty that permeated the work as a whole. Swain’s score, in this section and all others, felt just as aligned with and supportive of the truth of the moment.
We next met Kenner Brodsky as a persona. She slowly walked in – stopping, starting, observing, gazing out over the space. Standing on the bench to finally settle in the space, her presence was guarded, uneasy. She circled her spine, finding possibility within her body yet that which remained rooted to one place – so inherently limited in the possibility at hand.
McPheeters re-entered the space, and was a lot more up for exploring than her; he moved to the wall and went behind the hanging panels – palms to the wall and arms wide. They were disconnected physically, but a tension hung in the air: a tension that felt full of some sort of connection between them. Kenner Brodsky gestured as if pushing something away, but McPheeters’ action and presence didn’t change – until he exited.
Even without him physically present, that unspoken connection still hung in the air like beads of moisture on a humid day. Kenner Brodsky also exited – and another duet, with Stegall and Vidrin, commenced soon after. It was another little chapter in the story unfolding – a story more abstract than narrative, more about feeling than about concrete events.
Memorably, in one part of their duet, they lay on their backs with their feet planted – as if gazing up at stars on a clear night. With one dropping knees, the other followed suit, like Newton balls in smooth succession. Illustrative of the kinetic honesty and attunement throughout the work, they both remained intimately connected with their own body as well as their partner’s. Small joint articulations, shifts of gaze, spinal releases: as throughout the work, choices so seemingly simple and mundane could mean so very much.
In another striking moment, an image I can still see clearly as I write this, she reached her fingers backwards towards him while looking in front of her – away from him. Desire yet fear, yearning yet trepidation: I daresay all in the audience, to some degree, could relate to the feeling of those opposing forces within us in tense tug-of-war.
The remainder of the duet had them finding movement independently, and then re-joining to share ballroom-inflected movement. Having found some sort of deeper, more truthful connection, both ways of being – independent and joined – were available to them. That duality, that multiplicity of what’s possible, felt clear all the way to the point when one exited and the other stood clear and strong – to then signal the end of the work.
Apart from the significance of this being the ending, that ease with both solitude and connection felt unique as compared with the other sections. Such a development to end the work also felt hopeful: not a sticky-sweet “happy ending”, but the flame of hope shining even in the face of the winds trying to extinguish it.
At this ending, I also reflected on how the riches of both solitude and connection were held within each of the work’s passing moments: each glance, each reach, each unspoken synchronicity. Those moments are indeed brimming with treasures, but they’re all too easy for us to miss. Dance has things to teach us: 1,000 words and so, so much more. Yet, if we miss the moments, we’ll miss the lessons. Here’s to enjoying each moment of bodies intentionally moving: present, absorbed, overflowing with the magic of further potential.
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.