Music: Adolf Busch and found sound, edited by Abigail Wallace; Costumes: Abigail Wallace and dancers
Last staging: November 2008 at the University of Colorado at Boulder
This dance evolved from the synthesis of two pieces created separately. It was an adventure, an experiment: I wanted to see what would happen if I put two different worlds next to each other and let them negotiate a co-existence. The first community, a quartet of women displayed prominently in “Setsuna,” is grounded, loving, and human. The second community, a mixed-gender quintet displayed prominently in “Serving Our Interests,” is discordant, confrontational, and mechanical. The dance investigates the possibility, or impossibility, of a middle ground.
The main title alludes to the way the two groups constantly cross each other’s paths, or lines, and interrupt each other’s lives. A strong through-line of communication, particularly by telephone, appears in the music score and is subtly echoed in the dance. When lines are crossed on telephones, it is common to hear bits of other conversations on the line. Sometimes the conversation we are having cuts out randomly or we lose it altogether. Taken as a whole, this dance explores inter- and intra-relationships and the various ways humans approach them.
Part One: Setsuna
The backbone of this section is formed by a quartet of women, dressed similarly in white dresses and short black pants. This quartet began as a stand-alone dance choreographed for CU Moving Company in the fall of 2007. It grew out of my interest in social learning as it relates to cultural development, although it has grown to encompass much more. Studies show that behavior-copying gives rise to culture by forming lineages of traditional behaviors through social learning. Behaviors are constantly modified by individual experience, which can end traditions. Each individual has a choice to continue the behavior exactly or to modify it, and it is this choice I examined in the making of “Setsuna.” This process has been named memetic theory by scientist Richard Dawkins, who defines memes as cultural ideas that are propagated like genes as they spread from brain to brain.
I started by asking my four dancers to improvise with me on the subject of personal habit. These improvisations resulted in a set of core movements, which I organized, edited, and developed into the dance. The dancers begin spatially and thematically as one entity, making their way onstage along the diagonal from upstage right to downstage left. They quickly develop a vocabulary of gestures that lead to punctuations of identity and brief separation from the group. Each time someone leaves, they are recaptured or choose to return and are repositioned in the group. This physically demonstrates the dancers’ close-knit community and their choice to build traditions together. It is clear by the care each member of the group displays that relationships between the women are strong and function well. Resistance to outside-initiated change is displayed through repetition of movements and gestures and the physical closeness to which the quartet often returns.
Part Two: Serving Our Interests
This section originated as a quintet in the fall of 2006. My inspiration at first was quite simple: I rifled through the phone book with my eyes closed and pointed to a random ad in the yellow pages. It was for “Crackpots” pottery studio in Longmont, Colorado. I gave each of my dancers two words from the ad. One was common to everyone (crackpots) and one was unique (corporate events, scout troops, fundraisers, baby showers, birthdays). I directed the dancers to make up a few gestures and a short movement phrase in relationship to the words. Once these were solidified and learned by everyone, I tossed coins for the opening spatial pattern. One coin fell off the sheet of paper I considered as the stage, and I read that as being in the audience. That is why the opening soloist of the second section breaks the fourth wall, a choreographic device I returned to again and again in the dance.
The name of this section comes from a quote of former President Bush’s, where he admitted that America’s presence in Iraq is to serve our own interests, not theirs. This is not a dance about the war. It is about our propensity as humans to desire to serve only our selves and to ignore the larger picture. This section looks at people who interact only if forced, manipulating others casually and blindly, always reaching for a destination, a product that never quite comes within reach (possibly the elusive American dream). I show this in the way the quintet constantly travels through space. The dancers pass quickly through various duets and trios, never seeking the interactions. When they come into contact, it is abrupt and forceful, by accident, with one dancer moving another out of his or her immediate space. Most movements are bound, executed with determination and direct focus, even if not always angular.