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Joanne Zimbler
Special Focus
United States
Greater Los Angeles
Pasadena, CA

Arianne MacBean and Rande Dorn's "A Shared Evening of Dance"

by Joanne Zimbler
February 26, 2012
1158 East Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91106
no number
On Oscar weekend, the stars weren't the only ones celebrating art and its power to move and inspire. Also reveling in artistic achievement were Arianne MacBean and Rande Dorn who juxtaposed their very different works, covering an emotional spectrum from light-hearted humor and choreographic catharsis to a wrenching lamentation of the deficiencies in human relationships in their joint production of "A Shared Evening of Dance."

The title of Arianne MacBean's piece was a phrase simultaneously profound and prosaic: "The People Go Where the Chairs Are" (inspired by The Chairs are Where the People Go by Sheila Heti and Misha Glouberman). Chairs being the theme, the audience was not allowed to take theirs until the beginning of the performance, and as we went to them, several people, seemingly engaged in mundane stage preparation, walked across stage with tape, as they blocked and then wrote upon a white board, challenging our conception of and blurring the lines between what is performance and what is behind-the-scenes stage preparation.

The audience finally relaxed in their chairs and the twittering subsided as the preparation seemed to yield to the performance. But after just several minutes of a performance (involving chairs), the self-reflexive theme of the piece was revealed as we were thrown back into "process" mode and it became clear that entire performance was an amusing peek behind the curtain at the development and choreography of a dance. As the writing on the whiteboard was revealed to the audience, we discovered a humorously numbered twelve-step process/outline for the evening's performance, each one being crossed off upon completion of execution.

In the midst of this, two men and two women repaired to the "talk box." Upon one dancer's questioning of the authenticity of the choreography and movement, the group brainstormed over where to turn their questions about the choreography. In a hilarious exchange, deciding that their choreographer Arianne wasn't lofty enough, they concluded that not President Obama, Jesus or even Pina Baush, were appropriate but that only the pure Platonic "The Dance" would be the source to invoke for consultation and inspiration.

What followed was a catalog of emotions as the performers resisted, railed against, experimented with and celebrated various elements of improvisation, choreography and dance. One notably humorous moment, entitled on the board, "Hate Dance" was Angelina Atwell's declaration that she "sometimes really fucking hates dance" as a temper tantrum and chair-kicking melee ensued. Bodies flailed wildly and the scene would prove to be the most active one of the conversational performance.

Instead of being disappointed at the absence of the anticipated dance, which was replaced by MacBean's comical yet philosophical musings on the inherent nature of dance and choreography, as well as insights into the inevitable range of feelings and frustrations involved in them, the audience experienced simply identification and delight at the memorable and unconventional performance.

The tone of the evening veered sharply when Rande Dorn's company took to the stage in the evenings's second half in the presentation of "As We Grow Down," a title reflecting both the performance's medium and message, as dancers fell and recovered and seemed to lose their humanity as the narrative took them from childhood to maturity.

Mostly in dyads, seven women moved together through contentious relationships often with anguished movements which reflected the inherent challenges that so many human relationships are fraught with. Hierarchical dynamics are often most acutely felt on the playground which was where the dance commenced, with one tormented dancer the brunt of the abuse. Ostensibly rescued by another dancer, she quickly became victimized once again by her emancipator while the palpable tension between the other dancers ebbed and flowed as dynamics shifted, often abruptly. As a dancer sought the attention and affirmation of another, she found herself, again and again rebuffed, only to later be the one recoiling from the emotional needs of another.

The co-dependance and emotional impoverishment of the dancers was often reflected in sharp jagged movements which were inflicted upon one another when moving together; moving alone, the dancers stirred anxiously, autistically even, with nervous, desperate, and unrealized attempts to self soothe. Pulling at their own costumes and smacking their heads were just some of the repetitious movements invoking the idea of a sort of cultural autism, a disorder which seems to plague society and modern life as we become more and more alienated from one another. Over and over, the dancers failed to engage, and just as progress seemed to be made, again intimacy was flouted, confidences breeched, and vulnerability invited emotional violence.

The strong dancers provided the viscerally poignant sense of despair with flexed feet, rolling hands, angular movements, and rag doll-like movements suggesting defeat. For much of the performance, one dancer stood still, back to the audience, implicating the audience in the social alienation. The brooding music, a lone bass and cello, punctuated the sense of isolation as it crested and fell, reinforcing the sense of isolation infecting dancers and audience alike.

The lighthearted, silly, and at times goofy exchange in "The Chairs are Where the People Go" was belied by the truly reflective and introspective questions faced by not just dancers, but all artists. Likewise, the profound immaturity rendered on stage by Rande Dorn was only such because of her great sophistication as well as that of her dancers. Text from the whiteboard of Arianne MacBean's performance quoted Thorton wilder, saying, "there are no walls, no chairs, no tables, all is inward. Our true life in the imagination and in the memory." Indeed that true life is art, and art's gift of transformative and healing power was served up generously by two of L.A's most complex and dynamic companies.
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