When I moved to Columbus five years ago, I won’t lie; I despaired of how I’d managed a PhD without becoming absolutely and totally starved for art. In all fairness I’d just spent nearly a decade living in London, one of the great art centers of the world, and I had some very British misconceptions about the Midwest and what a “town with an attitude” like Columbus could offer. Well, I’m grateful to say, I was wrong.
The dance scene in Columbus was far richer than I knew, and has grown exponentially over the last five years. From the world-renowned dance degrees in the area – and especially at Ohio State – to a flourishing landscape of local companies, studios, projects, showings and pop-ups, the city is doing well. While I regret the loss of wonderful projects like the MINT collective and Feverhead, I’ve seen the rise of SEA<>BUS dance company, bringing sophisticated and intelligent improvisation-based work to the area, I’ve seen Flux and Flow build itself up from scratch and turn an empty shell of a health food store into a vibrant community class space and dance company. I have become an advocate for living, working, and dancing in Columbus, and as I look to the future and new jobs on the horizon I feel a profound sense of sadness about the community I’ll be leaving behind.
Last night those feelings became particularly poignant during the #2 showing of the Columbus Dance Alliance, a program of dance and movement, founded by generous donations and housed by the Wexner Center. The program last night demonstrated the breadth, versatility and beauty of the Columbus dance scene, and the committee should be congratulated wholeheartedly for holding such an open and proud space for dance in this city.
Lost Brotherhood by Gamal Brown opens the night – a sweetly moving work that set my own mood of fond nostalgia for times and friends gone by. Dancer DaRius FIncher brings a delicate touch to the space, gliding lightly through a complex turn series before coming to rest on the balls of his feet – poised on the fine line between present and future, self and community. Brown’s work is supported by a Columbus Dances Fellowship, and uses choreopoem and performance to tackle social justice issues of the present and past.
Inclusion by Melissa Hinchman (leader of the non-profit Cultivate Dance Project) is the second dance on the program, once again playing with individual creativity and unity. The choreography is articulate and full of refreshing, quirky details, making use of the dancers’ arresting performance dynamic. As the music breaks down, dissolves and returns, so do the dancers move from crisp unison towards a gradual dissolution of self – their attempts at partnered support gradually lost in individual isolation.
The final piece before the intermission – Michael Morris’s Elemental Rites at the End of the World – reaches out to the audience and draws us together in an urgent community of survival. Inviting us into a circle around them, Morris calls to the North, West, South and East horizons in a time of endings, invoking the elements with body and breath and ritual text. We are reminded that Earth, Water, Fire and Air are around and in and with all of us, that the spark in each cell is the wildfire that rages, is the witch burnt at stake and the women who we still do not believe. As their body strikes, flows, quakes and drifts, Morris shows us the layers of relationality between ourselves and the world, and they offer – with gentle hands – a way to hold those layers present and to care for them as we care for ourselves and each other.
Lauren Slone, choreographs and dances hot night slow drive fast car: a puzzle of a piece with a cobra in its belly, beautifully crafted and performed. Slone writhes and flicks her limbs across the stage with calm surety as the text and soundscape around her hint at profound internal struggle. hot night is a challenge to the superficial reading, and the dismissal of history and ritual trained into the body or inked on the skin. Interrupting balletic technique with a casually jutting hip, tracing pathways that are at once obscure and yet relentlessly determined, Sloane offers half of a story, and leaves us straining to see more clearly.
I have always loved the intersections of poetry and dance, and so the penultimate work: From these old pages, choreographed and danced by Megan Davis Bushway and Victoria Alesi was a treat to my eyes, ears and heart. Juxtaposing fragments of poems to shape new linguistic constellations, Bushway and Alesi invite us to consider how texts shape our humanity and response to the world. Their movement is quiet, with a responsive flow – a favourite moment is when the dancers grasp hands like a ballet bar, but instead on stasis they generate a swinging, circular, collaborative momentum, evolving and shifting until a compass line is traced around the stage. Poems become fragments become maps become the terrain we know, and how we explore it together.
On Board(hers), the final work of the night, takes us starkly from the free flow across maps and countries to the harshly linear space of customs and immigration control. Lucille Toth’s work, based on the testimonies of 15 Ohio-based immigrant women, has gathered interest and attention from all over the community, and I was justly excited to see an excerpt tonight. Amrita Dahr is flawless as the Orwellian customs agent, propelling the performers through a counter-intuitive ritual of routine subjugation. Toth and dancer Bita Bell bark at the audience in French and Farsi, in a powerful demonstration of what it’s like to be treated as a stranger in your own home. On Board(hers) makes its protest in the language of the marginalized – through empathy, and the unmistakable presentation of humanity, despite all the forces lined up to these things away. The full work will be shown on March 28th at the Beeler Gallery, and I urge all those who can to come and see it.
Thank you to the Columbus Dance Alliance for bringing these six works together, and I look forward to program #3!