After Thin Air, the Donna Uchizono show at the Walker, I overheard a man asking a Minneapolis dancer, “So what did it mean?” She wisely ducked the question, listing instead a few elements she saw. Similarly, a friend told me that he doesn’t know what to say about a dance if he doesn’t recognize the references—the influences, the history. “I don’t normally write about that,” I said. “But then isn’t it all subjective?” he asked.
It is all subjective. It always is. If I set about to tell you that Uchizono’s most important dance collaborator in this trio, Hristoula Harakas, is Cunningham-trained, and I see the architectural depth and muscular rigor of Cunningham in the steps, crossed with the more exploded, windblown reach and unfinished extremities of Skinner Release Technique, and I add that it looks as if Uchizono’s up on Body-Mind Centering or some similar idea of moving from the original impulses of the fabric of the body, and that Uchizono looks to have borrowed or intuited the weirdly extended time-sense of butoh (but in only 75 minutes). . . well, if I tell you all that, you’re a little more educated, but you don’t know much about the experience. And to give you the experience, I can only give you mine—my subjective view.
To prove this, I have only to look at the stack of reviews the Walker has thoughtfully included in my press packet—four or five of them, sometimes agreeing, sometimes disagreeing, finding the same moment either virtuoso or vaudeville. (I don’t normally read the press packet. Why? To preserve my pristine subjectivity. Isn’t that funny?) “What does it mean?” is not answered by a single one—or, if it is, it’s rapidly contradicted by the rest.
But just because my experience is subjective doesn’t mean it’s valueless. Do expecting mothers wave off the pregnancy stories of other women? Do travelers refuse to hear what anyone else has found in a place where they’re going? A review is a travel narrative: an account of where one person looked and what she saw. You are free to look where you please and see what you please when you visit the Great Wall of China. But you are likely to see more for having heard how others look—as long as you keep your independence of mind. So, without further ado (I realize this is a lot of ado), here is my subjective review; take it as you like.
Pay attention. I’m tired; it’s been a long day. The performers sit at the tops of ladders, bobbing their heads. Someone is tickling a tinny string in the score. The performers continue their experiential bobbings, but not just bobbings, also—I keep myself alert by noticing—flappings, noddings, pointings, slappings, pattings. I worry all this oscillation will induce vertigo and they’ll fall off their ladders. Do they worry? Uchizono gives me time to worry and forget worrying.
Pay attention. Someone else has. The stage is covered by a plastic sheet, and under the lights it looks like a flat lake. The dancers ruche it and stretch it flat. Later, one dancer ploughs up the middle of the lake, so that it fans behind him in two immense blue wings, while the other two dancers shadow-play off to the side. Relation constantly shifts between the three dancers: in unison, all separated, in reaction, mirroring. All this orchestrated motion and glance is the opposite of a ten-car pile-up, the opposite of a landmine that blows up years after the war is over. It is Uchizono’s care. I can rest in it. At the same time it draws me out of myself to see what she has made. Look at the photographs, realize that they are not captured moments of fall or flight, but in fact pictures of sustained balances, and you will have a sense of Uchizono’s sumptuous detail. All the corners are full; nothing lapses.
Pay attention. But this isn’t always easy. I don’t like gimmicks or jokes much. I’m disappointed when Thin Air descends from metamorphic struggle to the broad humor of dancer Antonio Ramos painting goofily PG-13 squiggles on a plastic sheet. I’m embarrassed, maybe, for having gotten so involved earlier, and my mind wanders. I begin narrating the dance to myself.
Look for a way back in. The two female dancers (Harakas and Julie Alexander) launch into a foot duet, standing side-by-side, facing the audience, staring down at their own feet like little girls checking out their socks. Their feet model this and that—point, scrunch, demi-point, ballet b-plus, first, fifth, turned in, Egyptian stance—rapidly and without attachment. I’m charmed; this is as fascinating as a spiraling screensaver. This is enough. Although the foot duet lasts a long time (with a brief intermission in which the dancers discover their hands), it goes quicker than thought. It’s hypnotic; my mind can only begin sentences.
Arrive/depart. All together, the dancers spring into a movement phrase (a sequence of steps, one step flowing into the next, typically repeated; it looks like dance). Phrases are rare in Thin Air, but this looks familiar; I’ve seen the bits and pieces before—only now I see them with a difference. It’s as if the entire dance were built backward, to illuminate this moment. Kaleidoscopically, the oppositions magnify and dissolve—open/closed, together/apart, with/against, sincere/silly, people/dancers—revealing how at their most extreme they meet. I feel that I understand something; I feel I’ve been trained in a way of seeing.
Meaning is at the other end of unmeaning, subjective at the other end of objective. From a certain vantage, we can entertain them all.
Thin Air continues at the Walker Art Center through April 4, walkerart.org