Sunday, October 18, 2009

Candice Salyers' Chamber Series takes us down The Rabbit Hole: A Review

Event Description:
Dancer and choreographer Candice Salyers, will perform at The Rabbit Hole, 805 Main Street, Fitchburg on Friday, October 16th at 7:00 PM. Her solo dance/movement 'Chamber Series' explores qualities that exist within the transformation of perception and the perceiving of transformation. This site-adaptive dance work travels through a series of intimate and expansive spaces, and stems from the artist's desire to inspire care about human being and to expand imaginings of what is possible for human becoming.

Review (by Cindi L'Abbe):

Sometimes the dance world leaves me feeling cold, and not just cold, but helpless. I believe that dance, as much as any other art, has the possibility to be both incredibly emotionally compelling and painstakingly well-crafted. The dances that I see most often, however, seem to be more self-indulgent and (at the risk of sounding a little "red") decadent than either compelling or well-crafted (to say nothing of being both). This world doesn't seem hospitable for my own dances, nor does it offer me dance that feeds me and forces me to grow. Candice Salyers is one of a limited group of dance artists who renew m y faith in the art form and in myself.

Full disclosure alert: Candice has been a teacher of mine and a close mentor. I have affection for her personally, but she is also, to quote a new-agey friend of mine, "a powerful presence". Her small-space performance at the Rabbit Hole on Friday night provided the perfect opportunity to magnify and focus that power.

The performance began outside on the sidewalk, with Ms. Salyers who was (in spite of the cold) dressed in a lovely white camisole dress that evoked lingerie and formal evening attire. Lying on the sidewalk, thus attired, in downtown Fitchburg elicited a couple of cat calls from passers by. These did not at all detract from the performance, an exploration of the body as an objet d'art, flesh, matter---an exploration of seeing and being seen. In fact, later, the outline of her body chalked onto the sidewalk and bordered with small white-painted G.I. Joes, she wrote in the negative space, "My inner world is a post 'male-gaze' society." Somehow, Ms. Salyers, as a woman and an artist has moved beyond the objectification of a cat-call and if she does not feel objectified then it seems unlikely that she can be.

In the second section of the work, Ms. Salyers directed us inside the bookstore where she began moving slowly with her back to the small audience among the bookcases. As a performer, Ms. Salyers is impossible to look away from; even her smallest movements are imbued with obvious meaning and intention and she seems to always move from her innermost self with all of her might. Tucked into the stacks of books she moved in slow motion with a quality of seduction which made the audience feel that they were looking in at a private moment. At one point she slowly slid her strap off her shoulder and then back up. This coquetry (partially inspired by the ways Marie Antoinette might seduce someone, in other words, the flirtations of a powerful woman) was amplified by her use of direct eye contact. It was fascinating to see the reactions of audience members with whom Ms. Salyers made and held eye contact. Often she would smile at them, and at one point played a game of peek-a-boo by always finding the eyes of one audience member while spinning around. Some audience members reacted as though they'd been "caught" looking at Ms. Salyers, which is intriguing and led me to question what we are thinking of the people we see when we see a performance. Do we dehumanize performers so much that we fool ourselves into thinking that they don't know we are there?

Given the slow movement, the simplicity of the composition and the single-pointed focus of solo work, it may speak to the "powerful presence" of Ms. Salyers as a performer that no one's attention seemed to flag. I attribute this to something else (or rather, something additional); simplicity allows us to focus and humanity\meaning\consciousness intrigue us. How many dances have lost me because of too much movement? I have not known myself to ever complain because there was too little dancing in a dance.

Following Ms. Salyers up the spiral stairs of the Rabbit Hole, I was struck by the playfulness and kindness of her piece thus far. The last two sections of the work would prove to be no less intriguing, but, for me, more haunting, abstract and beautiful.

Part three of the performance was danced on a floor covered with rose petals. Given the themes of the piece throughout, the seductive nature of rose petals could not be ignored. The movement in this section demonstrated, more than any of those previous, Ms. Salyers' tremendous strength and technique as a dancer. However, her dance was much more than a display of virtuosity. Every movement of her hands, a foot, the top of the head was clearly intentional and meaningful. The repetition of a phrase which grew and crystallized with each repeat was so compelling that I didn't notice (but was informed by friends later) that the audience was once again, disconcertingly confronted with the objet d'art\flesh question. Flipping her body with power and strength, Ms. Salyers revealed her underwear, her thighs and the feminine nature of her body. Having danced in a work of hers in 2005 (Belief is a Persistent Angel), I couldn't help but see similarities. The primary dancer in the 2005 work has performed a similar solo in a similar costume with similar results.

The final section of the work at the Rabbit Hole consisted of a solo that I'd never seen, but had heard described. The fact that Ms. Salyers explores the underlying themes of her work over the course of years, is additional evidence of the intellectual prowess and attention to craft that she embodies. A worked and re-worked piece satisfies the audience with its completeness much more than the staged result of a stint at Jacob's Pillow, never mind the lights and set and flash. Familiarity with the work of a choreographer and their process is also satisfying, so my full disclosure clause applies here again.

During this last section a slide projector projects a single slide with the text, "My body lacks nothing.", while in one of the most beautiful pieces of dance I've seen (excepting perhaps a similar segment in the aforementioned Belief...), Ms. Salyers raises herself from the floor to standing with full understanding and experience of every movement. The most stunning moment, for this observer, occurred when, standing on one foot, she slid the other leg off the floor and slowly, reaching through the sole of her foot and toes (Ms. Salyers has some of the most articulate toes I've seen) she searches for and encounters the floor, feeling it fully before placing her weight on it. Once she was standing, she joined the audience (after smiling at us) and the projector clicked, "(except for you)".

To paraphrase Ms. Salyers, my inner world is a post "meaningless dance" society. She lives in that world with me.