Hilary Easton + Company’s performance of Noise + Speed last night left my head swirling. In a good way. During the course of the hour-long performance, set to music and text, I found myself drawn in again and again and again. Which brings me to my first observation: the challenge of staying totally present to a work of art like a dance performance. Much of my experience of art has been limited to queuing up behind a line of other spectators to stand for a few moments in front of a painting, photograph or sculpture in a crowded museum. Only in recent years have I learned to sit in front of piece for a half hour or more, letting it work on me. But watching a dance performance demands a sustained close attention to the action and a wider awareness that can take in the music, the energy inside the space, movements happening on the periphery, etc.
Hilary Easton + Company at MTA
During the course of my six weeks seeing dance performance at MTA, I can honestly say that there are times when I am drifting out of the performance: what do I have to do right after this? Did I remember to put away the such-and-such? I wonder if so-and-so-remembered to…. And it could go on like that. To Hilary Easton + Company’s credit, I found myself constantly wrenched from my churning thoughts right back into the action.
The dancers in this piece were tight. What I’m starting to realize I love about modern dance is that even when more than one dancer is doing synchronized movement, it’s possible for me to see the individual dancers’ personalities in the inflections. Instead of a row of identical-looking ballet dancers in lock-step movement, there’s something about the performers in most of the modern dance companies I’ve seen at MTA that is a little more…chaotic, alive, human. There’s something for me to relate to. The dancers last night were so alive.
Text from Italian Futurist manifestos was read by an actor who performed with the dancers–sometimes standing relatively still, sometimes jumping into the action. He was extraordinary. Every word was charged, and at one point, as his voice reached a crescendo, it was impossible not to feel the electricity crackling in the studio–in and between the dancers, off the walls of the studio, through the audience. (There were bits of text he read that sounded like they could have fallen from the lips of our current commander-in-chief, if he was at all articulate, that is.) His part was integral to the piece. It gave me a place to enter, and in his non-professional-dancer movement, a place to relate. Hilary Easton herself was riveting. A beautiful lesson is less is more. Standing completely still, she was able to convey volumes with just the look on her face (and I was sitting in the back row).
The Q & A after the performance raised as many questions as it answered (which was why I was glad for the opportunity to ask more questions of the dancers during the reception that followed; they were a wonderful, down-to-earth group of people). There is something so moving and so…fascinating to me about what makes someone create a work of art. Something about the Italian Futurists of the early twentieth century sparked something in Hilary Easton in the early twenty-first century that made her explore and question, exhaustively research, transmit that curiosity and energy to her dancers through her choreography, which was then transmitted to me last night. I mean, isn’t that sort of incredible? Miraculous even? I find it so inspiring when an artist is drawn to a question to such a degree that it draws something out of them that they then share with an audience, which in turn draws new questions out of me.