Two Perspectives on Platform 2015, part II
June 3, 2015
Danspace Project invited several artists and practitioners from our community to participate as Respondents in a series of written reflections on Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets. This series shares a wide range of perspectives on the Platform’s events. Below, Platform curator Claudia La Rocco shares a look back at February and March. For more background on the Platform, read La Rocco’s curatorial statement here. Below, Yvonne Rainer and Emmanuel Iduma share thoughts on the second of Platform 2015′s “Dance Dialogues.” Share your comments on our Facebook page!
Danspace Platform, March 6, 2015 by Yvonne Rainer
The collaboration between Sterling Hyltin, Jodi Melnick, Sara Mearns, and Rashaun Mitchell proved to be an intriguing variety show, consisting of a series of overlapping solos, duets, trios, and quartets. Well before the official beginning, while audience members were still trickling in, different pairings of dancers alternately rushed into the performance area to “swoon” to the floor, where they lay for a few minutes before walking off.
Another arresting element in the space was the asymmetrical positioning of seats that would enable the dancers to work behind and around the spectators as well as in front.
As the program progressed, it became interesting to me to compare the small differences in affect between the ballet dancers and the postmodernists, even as they executed similar moves — Hyltin and Mearns in ballet slippers, Mitchell and Melnick barefoot. The distinguishing term appeared to be “expressivity.”
The two postmodernists maintained the impassive facial expressions of the Cunningham-trained dancer, while the ballerinas were prone to a wide range of affects, from classic finger positions to the dramatic yearnings, aches, and aspirations of romantic ballet, manifest not only in the face — Hyltin’s silent impassioned appeal to an audience member, for instance, morphing into an expression of tragic despair familiar in 18th and early 19th century paintings — but in the slow motion expansions of arms and upper torsos, especially apparent in the almost too exquisite back archings of Mearns. Thus, on the one hand, Melnick’s or Mitchell’s landings on the floor could be described simply as that, whereas I read the ballerinas’ landings as “collapse”, “swoon,” or “romantic death”, the latter indicated in the program but more fully enacted by the ballet dancers. (I admit to the possibility of an overly subjective projection in this regard on my part.) Another instance of difference was revealed in a duet by Melnick and Hyltin that entailed an unusual moment of unison in which they executed some shuffling ronde de jambe steps with arms held high. In other respects I must commend the postmodernists for having been able to hold their own in the many classical references to Balanchine no less than to their own Cunningham heritage.
The program contained some hilarious folderols. Melnick loosens her hair and begins a somnambulistic walk with arms stretched ahead of her a la Allegra Kent in Balanchine’s La Sonnambula while Hyltin reads instructions for proper interpretation, ordering her to express “a sense of danger”, a “haunting” and to “bump into him.” Melnick, doing her exaggerated best to comply, juts a hip, the whole of the exercise eliciting much laughter from the audience, including me. Later, Mitchell struggles Laocoon-like with four chairs that his colleagues have piled onto him, this time alluding to Cunningham’s solo with the chair strapped to his back, also to subsequent work with chairs by members of the Grand Union. In fact, a few of this group’s antics reminded me of some of the best GU bits.
I’ll skip over the chance procedure involving the rolling of a big soft die to determine which pair was to do what where, a playful game that demonstrated yet another performance mode — obviously indebted to Cunningham/Cage — one among many that the foursome cheerfully mustered throughout the evening.
A culminating solo by Mitchell to the music of Azealia Banks blew me away. I have been accustomed to saying that I don’t care for improvisation because it usually gives rise to uninteresting personal habits and clichés. (Not that I am averse to clichés per se; depending on context and use some are more interesting than others.) Solo dancing is especially risky. However, in this case Mitchell seemed acutely attuned to the risk. His movement phrases — full of reversals of vertical and horizontal directions in space, changes of tempo, precarious balances in quick succession giving way to pedestrian energy or an unforeseen hurtling across the room followed by crawling behind seats — flummoxed any notion I may have entertained about the predictability of improvisation. At the end, as he calmly walked off, I almost applauded, but when no one else did, resisted the impulse.
The evening ended as the four wunderkinds sat in a rectangle of chairs and looked at each other. Fade to black. The audience responded with an ovation. Someone I spoke to afterwards found the program too sketchy. To which I responded, “So was vaudeville.”
Excerpts from “Dance Adjectives” by Emmanuel Iduma
…She had gathered herself in a pose and her body was unmoving, only the blinking of her eyes and the rise and fall of her diaphragm. People walked in while she lay there; some checked their watches when they saw her. Had the performance began? A body had been incised in the middle of the room, a calming image.
Yet I had to labor toward calm. When I saw Melnick’s body on the floor, my mind made frightening associations. Even now I am not clear why I fought persisting gloom, or whether the afterimage I conjured was from a story or a photograph—but it was there, bodies piled on bodies, bodies expelled in the dark, felled by hunger or the harsh desert wind, waiting for the end to come. Days later, still confounded, I found a poem by Yvonne Rainer, “1977.” 
I dreamed of bodies burning at the edges
When I awoke my belly was cold as an abandoned stove
The streets were cleared, trees bent
The air so still, as though just inhaled
When next I noticed it was spring
…Watching their “8 unfinished dances,” when the dancers walked about the room with the confidence of property owners, I thought the best moments were those when their gestures would become similar, one arched elbow imitating the other, or feet strutting at the same time. These dances, without middles or ends, seemed almost like the gyrating fits of fraternal worshippers; spread-out on a rostrum, hoping to reach ecstasy through enthusiasm and fervor.