You may have seen an excerpt of Ching-I Chang’s “Dinomato” at the recent “Daughters of Mudson” showcase. The piece was reviewed in SLUG and for the blog alongside 15 BYTES. As a producer of Daughters of Mudson it’s uncharacteristic of me to write about the piece–– it’s certainly hard to be neutral about something one had a stake in. While it wasn’t my creative work nor my creation, it did have my name attached to it. That said, I have to confess that upon the first viewing I agreed more with Karin Fenn’s criticisms than I did Danell Hathaway’s praise for the excerpt Ching-I presented as part of the group showcase in the Rose Wagner. In it’s original, excerpted viewing, I felt alienated from the narrative. The title indicated to me that the piece explored boredom, and my knee-jerk reaction was that it was unfair to ask the audience to be subjected to boredom for no apparent reason. My opinion shifted after seeing the work in its entirety at Sugar Space this past weekend. The full version of Ching-I’s work left me noticing small details, the tenderness and harshness which can be shared among dancing partners, and the nature of bewilderment.
“Dinomato” takes its inspiration in part from Andy Warhol and his use of iconic imagery and bland repetition. The audience gathers outside and our narrator, Efren Corado Garcia, appears to tell us what may unfold. He lifts paper to reveal the interior of a small alcove in the theater where we see Temria Airmet and Tara McArthur wearing white dance garb and Andy Warhol wigs while they rearrange cans of tomato soup. Already this felt more fresh for me as a viewer than the previous iteration at “Daughters”. Because we were shown a small glimpse through a window, it felt we were let into a secret that before felt distant and unexplored. I was drawn into the fractured narrative that would unfold and was physically close to my peers in the audience as we were led into a space too small to hold us. Efren soon handed us photos of dinosaur skeletons as a welcome gift and led us into the more forgiving space of the theater. The seats were sparse and in the round, as the audience chose carefully their vantage point Tara and Temria traced vague imagery onto opposite walls with their bodies.
An improvisation followed with each dancer performing solos based on emotive words chosen at random by audience members from a stack of paper. I have a name for dances of this sort, BOSSWIP: Based on Secret Words Written in Private. My dance professor in college invented the term and I’ve tended toward being critical of dances which presume that we should know or care what imaginary terms had helped craft the movements we were seeing. Yet, something about the visual design and the allure of the trio of performers transcended my expectation of what the improvisation would look like. It was clear that Tara drew a card that said “desperate”. Her sad and desperate dance drew me in. On the other end of the spectrum I had no idea what Efren drew but his precise and smooth impersonation of a potato being peeled made me want to know.
Once again the audience was led somewhere new, this time the lobby where Tara and Efren danced a sad duet featuring an upturned couch and the sense that one performer was leaving the other. The walls were covered in curious figures made by Ching-I, as well as two large faces on the wall, one full of color and texture, the other empty. Efren led us past the record player and behind the black traveler. Being a dancer walking through the traveler was a familiar feeling, but the curiosity still built as we emerged on the other side to Temria throwing soup spoons off of a loft onto the floor. Back in the stage space there was more dancing, more soup, more posturing and more text about topics to which the audience wasn’t exactly privy.
I left fundamentally interested in the three curious figures who led me through Sugar Space in a way I’ve never seen it despite having viewed a good bit of dance there. I left wondering how and why they made the dancers made their choices to interact with one another which is, for better or worse, something I think about nearly every day with everyone I see. I left imagining whether the little universe they’ve created is something that Ching-I will continue to explore, and I hope that’s the case.
Ashley Anderson is the director of loveDANCEmore programs through her non-profit, ashley anderson dances.