Review by Julie Galle Baggenstoss, Photos by Francesco Fedele and Cody Jacques
Three dancers performed the main act of “The Othering” at the Windmill Arts Center in East Point, GA, on October 28, 2023, opening a view into how adult bodies would move if the inner child took to dancing in grown-up struggles, as well as the wild abandon of youth. Choreographer Nadya Zeitlin framed the 30-minute dance performance in the classic tale of Hansel and Gretel.
Rather than baking fictious children, Zeitlin explored how an adult might kill some portion of juvenile personal identity when the arrival of new stage of life demands more maturity. Zeitlin asked the audience to participate in the performance by selecting the action of each upcoming
variation. Dancers paused at the end of certain phrases of movement and focused on a light wrapped in sculpted, crossed branches. When that light blinked, audience members used a cell phone application to answer a question based on critical plot elements of Hansel and Gretel. The response that elicited the most audience votes corresponded to a set of steps that dancers then put into motion. The interactive element demanded an attention to detail of both the movements and the fairy tale plot.
Early on, dancers sprinkled jumps and rolls across the floor as they circled the perimeter of the stage to a recording of chatter and laughter. Their actions seemed as random as the banter at a cocktail party. But it all became organized when the spoken vocals turned instructional in tone, first in Russian and later in English, when a monotone voice explained that dog walking is time spent for the dog. Meantime, chiseled, flat hands led a stream of bodies, arms slicing the air until settling into square-shapes, elbows tucked at the hips.
Directed by audience choice, the next movement was performed to a pulsing low electronic beat
augmented by live music played on a stand-up double base. The ‘old lady’ of the fairy tale, portrayed in a young adult body, delivered one of the most evocative passages of the evening to that soundscape. The top of her head made a seemingly magnetic connection to the flat horizontal surface of a red chair, the kind of chair could be taken for granted and go unseen in the minutia of any household. Strips of her blonde hair flopped to the sides of her ears while her body writhed and her feet jogged around the outstretched silver legs of the chair, as if unable to emerge from anguish. She climbed on the chair, sat on it properly, fought with it, never releasing nor overcoming tension, but rather co-existing with it, tethered to it.
Would the emotional upwelling of that variation have been the same if the audience had chosen the other option when prompted by the blinking light? One of the curiosities of the audience interaction model is that the questions posed referenced action of the fairy tale. Audience voting depended upon whether individuals entered responses based on the perspective of the plot of the story as written on the imaginary metaphor, of the adult doing away with youthful impulses. Dancers were well-trained artists set to motion with the goal, according to Zeitlin, of creating an emotional response. Anticipating their interpretation of the next variation also became a factor in decision-making.
That twist in the choreographic process brought a chance of life – or a happy ending to a fairytale where death is expected. Understanding that decisions only go one way, dancers have a collection of choreography that did not make it to the stage during the performance. It triggers the imagination of what would have happened if the audience made different choices. And thus this choose-your-own- adventure experience created reflections for each onlooker, of a life lived and what was left behind in it. What would have happened if those inner children had danced differently or not at all?