Article by Steve Paul
July 12, 2022
I wasn’t expecting this. In a darkened theater, as a favorite musician and a troupe of dancers performed on stage, I was beset by rolling tides of emotions. Riding on one wave was an intimate connection with Helen Gillet’s aching cello lines and the elegant bodies moving in space just in front of me. On the other was my personal history with modern dance. Together they triggered the kind of interior physical response every artist hopes to achieve.
Earlier in the week, I’d spent a couple of hours watching and hearing parts of this concert developing in rehearsal. That was an arm’s length experience, made more so by my efforts to capture photographs and video of the proceedings. (Yes, I know, if you really want to live in the here-and-now, put down the
In its formal presentation in April, Owen/Cox Dance Group’s production of “Skin” — a concert-length sequence of Gillet’s songs, several sung in French, and her hyperactive, loop-boosted cello inventions — ascended to a wholly remarkable level.
Dance, of course, is one of the most ancient of art forms. We can all imagine our ancestors motioning around the fire, sharing wisdom, making visual poetry in the eons before speech and writing.
I never really learned to dance, except in that free-form, clunky way of teendom. But I did somehow, years ago, gain an appreciation for the modern stream of dance. Watching the quintet of Owen/Cox dancers sent me back to the place from where I calibrate my interest. It was a concert-lecture by the composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham, whose liquid range of motion embodied a kind of magic. I knew nothing of their relationship at the time, but I was moved by their mutual elegance and sense of modernity.
It was not much later when I almost struck up a special thing with a student dancer but lost her when she transferred back home, left me, that is, with a hole in the heart. (A week or so after writing that line, I remembered something this aspiring dancer told me, something that might have had to do with her departure from the major she’d been enrolled in. Her boobs were too big for success as a dancer, she said. College certainly can be a place of cruel revelation.)
A few years after that, a dancer and teacher I knew became as close as family among our small circle of friends, two of whom are no longer with us. She moved gracefully in the world. Her knees were unforgettable, even decades later — you should see the surgical scars!
Add to my dance memory’s inventory the avant-garde films of (the Ukrainian choreographer) Maya Deren; the concerts of David Parsons, Pilobolus, Momix, Twyla Tharp and Alvin Ailey; the Kansas City work of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Mary Pat Henry, Westport Ballet, Haley Kostas, Owen/Cox. You get the picture. I don’t think it’s an obsession. It’s deep appreciation.
Dance connects. And often in unexpected ways. It’s possible all this emotion was stirred by the fact that we were now seeing live performances again. Our inner circuits certainly have been hyper-sensitized by the last two years of isolation, caution and chaos.