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DanceATL’s A.M. Collaborative “taste”: Review

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

The inaugural run of DanceATL’s A.M. Collaborative, an interdisciplinary incubator for dance performance and movement-based art, culminated on Friday, February 26, 2021, with “taste,” a multi-platform and multi-media event that comprised both a live Zoom event and the launch of a web portal for accessing the films, text, recordings of live performances, and process-related ephemera that emerged from the five-month program. The live component featured excerpts and previews, conversations with the artists, and a Q&A with the audience. Given the truly impressive feast available on the A.M. Collaborative site, DanceATL’s choice of a relatively informal, unscripted format for the Zoom event made sense. A single evening-length performance, especially a virtual one, could not have accommodated the breadth and variety of what this group of artists has accomplished.

The A.M. Collaborative curators—Samantha Spriggs, Onur Topal Sumer, Nadya Zeitlin and Jacquelyn Pritz—did a wonderful job of drawing out the unifying themes of the cohort’s body of work through the questions they posed to the artists and the clips and selections they presented. The relationship between the live premiere/preview and web showcase is still-emergent, however, and could have been more clearly executed. The online showcase is a lovely and moving collection of work that offers a glimpse of how movement-based performance art created during the pandemic is affecting the relationship between dance and other art forms.

The A.M. Collaborative “taste” website uses a three by four grid of image tiles to help users navigate the site. The grid is visually engaging and also prompts the audience to begin thinking of the pieces as a body or collection of work. Because the audience can also browse the showcase by scrolling, narrative text drawing out some of the shared themes and elements among the works would reinforce that initial visual prompt.

As the first few presentations of the “taste” preview unfolded I realized that the transformation of performance brought on by the pandemic has profound potential to change the way spatial cues create meaning, both deliberately and incidentally, within movement-based or movement-focused art. In the trio of films—“isolate.,” “dissociate,” and “alone but not lonely”—created individually by the “accountability collaborative” formed among Raven Crosby, Kathryn Gutierrez, and Loren McFalls, the careful negotiation of interior v. exterior spaces quickly emerged as a preoccupation. Interiors in these works tended to signify as crowded, isolated, private, fraught, while exteriors expressed and fulfilled desires for openness, space, community, and safety. Yet even over the course of the evening program, these surface oppositions began to collapse, and watching the full works online further complicated the symbolic vocabulary of space at play in them. Gutierrez, for example, makes dramatic use of the liminal space of a window, neither inside nor outside, and by cutting together footage of interior and exterior, McFalls suggests a syntactical equivalence of these spaces. Crosby’s treatment for her film in progress, “isolate.,” offers an exterior and an interior image to illustrate the visual vocabulary of what she calls the “corn maze phenomenon,” which is “experienced as we move through our daily lives and engage in repeated actions expecting a change.”

Many of the works in A.M. Collaborative “taste” move beyond a simple opposition of interior v. exterior making use of found or deliberately created liminal spaces, or by layering or juxtaposing spatial cues in new configurations. Thus, in the top image from Crosby’s treatment for her film-in-progress “isolate.,” the viewer is encouraged to see the formal maze-like or labyrinthine similarity in the exterior view of a structure on the left and the interior architectural view on the right, suggesting that what Crosby describes as the “corn maze phenomenon” bridges the boundary between inside and outside, and exists as both a mental and physical state. In the lower image from the Bodies in Motion Documentary by Reeves and Boatright, the outdoor proscenium stage of Reeves’s Bodies in Motion show similarly encourages the viewer to see the performance and the work that went into creating as activity that built a new space from the interiors and exteriors in which they occurred.

One of the most revelatory moments of the evening for me came when watching A. Raheim White’s dynamic and gorgeous live performance of “The Struggle” in their home studio. Because, of course, while living rooms and bathrooms and kitchens may not have been the spaces in which dancers chose to create and perform before the pandemic, these are the spaces in which they are creating and performing now.

Then, as Ania Bartelmus and Pendu Malik began presenting and discussing their “We Are One,” which incorporates Flamenco, traditional African dance, and step, they reminded everyone watching that dance has always flourished in spaces that Western contemporary and modern dance institutions have inscribed as “non-traditional.” When contagion rendered the default spaces of studio and proscenium stage unavailable, dancers and choreographers had to make different choices about where to perform, and those choices were in some strange way less constrained by circumstance than such choices often are. Where many emerging movement artists often have to take performance space as it comes, however they can get it, in their homes or the out of doors, they exercise a different kind of artistic agency when they select the bathroom instead of the living room, or a city street instead of a garden.

In this image captured from “The Pandemic of Loneliness,” Lavoie’s placement in a low corner where the floor and two walls meet, coupled with the shadows cast in the dark, red-tinged light create on first impression an aura of fraught confinement within this interior space. As the film unfolds, however, the movement that takes place shows Lavoie playing happily with his adorable dog. In this way, the film layers spatial and gestural cues to complicate the viewer’s understanding of interior v. exterior and the dancers’ relationship to these spaces.

Together, the A.M. Collaborative artists perform and foreground a reality in which dance—like photography, poetry, painting, sculpture, architecture—is everywhere. The bodies that haunt and want through HG Gruebmeyer’s poetry are as real as the bodies of the dancers who took the stage in “Living in Between,” by Jenna Latham and Megan Long, or “Slow Burn,” by René Nesbit and Christina Venditti. I came away from the “taste” sharing event with a new attentiveness to the physical space of dance performance and a greater understanding of how physical spaces—and the objects they contain—might combine with gesture in dance to make meaning. I also gained a new sense of the role bodies play in the other arts.

The pieces “Taste,” by Frankie Mulinix and Leo Briggs (left), and “Past and Presence,” by Jessica Brooke Anderson and Catherine Messina (right), both bring everyday objects into studio or performance spaces. The artistic choice to include these staged objects creates a productive referential ambivalence. Is this a “set” and a dance intended to re-present or reference ordinary, every day spaces and gestures? Or, is this a re-presentation of a pandemic dance space, in which dance-as-dance incidentally occupies the same space as a lamp, or a doily, or a kitchen table? Or perhaps the spaces these artists have created are both at once, in which the meaning of space and gesture are multiplied and multi-valent.

For audiences and artists alike, “taste” demands we activate new modes of engagement and interpretation in dance that were previously reserved for other art forms. Klayne Rolader’s photography investigates the symbolic potential of the human form, if only we are willing to look closer, with attention to detail akin to the close reading of poetry. Live performance, as much as we may miss it now and celebrate its full return, cannot draw and focus the audience’s gaze as Rolader does, or as Jenn Klammer and Andie Knudson do in their short black and white film “Un-.” Rather than receiving this sort of work as remediation of or surrogates for bodies activated in live performance, A.M. Collaborative’s “taste” suggests we might productively experience it as dance in its own right. In doing so, we retrain our gazes and interpretive processes in ways that could in turn enrich our experience of live performance.

In this still from “An Exploration of Perception,” a film-in-progress by Hannah Myers, the animation of the background and the dancer’s costume, and even the ability to select from two alternative soundtracks, highlight the many choices that choreographers layer with choices about gesture and motion to create meaning in movement-based art.

These opinions are the opinions of our writer. If you have checked out A.M. Collab and have thoughts, please join the dialogue and comment below!

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