The piece begins with humor: a Gilbert Gottfried soundbite that speaks of the body as an excessive weight, vegetative, without the operating mind – easier to reconcile with, humorously, if dead and done. The character of the piece, situated discretely amongst the audience as one of us, is then summoned unwillingly to the stage with a lottery ticket. Thus at the onset of the piece, we are called to identify with our character as we try to understand whatever chaos has demanded her presence in the grotesque world that follows.
In this world, skin ripples. Flesh melts. Bodies on stage fold as though millions of cells emit final breaths – repetitively, microscopically. The dancers onstage introduce us, with conviction and startling continuity, to the quality of this dimension.
A duet between Toni Lugo and Christine Hasegawa, bathed in red illumination and suspended by meat hooks, becomes the profound epitome of this world of decomposition. Here we become all at once disgusted, confused, and intrigued by the slapping of skin and the molding, folding, and gyrating of the human form.
As so often seems to be the case in life itself, the piece becomes a battle between body and mind. Our character returns, giving voice to the ego: I am, I am, but – “Where am I?” she asks, confused, anxious, alone. We recognize her questions throughout the piece – “Is this the line to heaven?” – as expressions of a way of thinking (and hence, a mode of living) where all action is guided by the belief in a divine, transformative ending. But this world is no heaven as we’ve been told to expect. The bodies on stage provoke and disassemble our character, sweeping her up with an asterisk-shaped prop, turning her over like a leaf in a compost bin.
A morgue cart becomes the most necessary and powerful prop, weaving together a beautiful solo performed by Juan Carlos Claudio with duets and full-cast dances, and underlining the rolling movement quality of decompositional break-down. There are large metal tubs, too – utilized most powerfully when collecting and consuming the human form, their presence evokes meat, blood, and slaughter.
The character we have been asked to identify with is always terrified or skeptical of her inevitable decomposition, even as it happens. As the piece concludes, she is swallowed by waving folds of fabric. The body disappears, becomes motionless. But the ego persists with its commentary – “it must be karma!” – as we discover that her transformation through decomposition has turned her into a carrot, an earthly thing that is picked up and bitten into.
Executed beautifully, “Of Meat and Marrow” exhibits the exceptional potential of dance to root us in our bodies and remind us of our mortality. I take issue, however, with the humorous context in which the piece begins and concludes because all other elements of the piece powerfully evoke the idea that dance, an artistic form that directly involves the physical potentialities and – most importantly – the physical limitations of the body, could be compelling all participants to internalize their mortality more deliberately, and could be asserting itself as the most powerful vessel of empathy and compassion.
The fact that we, as an audience, are expected to accept within the comforts of humor a truly thought-provoking piece that reminds us – through physical, empathetic sensation – of the vulnerability of our flesh speaks volumes regarding our pervasive, tired world view. I oppose the framing of this piece with humor because I believe we should instead be seizing the moment to emphasize the communicative power of dance, well-demonstrated in this piece, as a potential means for a transformation in perception – for what we need now most of all in our world view is the reminder that the organic world, of which our bodies are a part, has limits and repercussions that our intellectual realm does not.
The state of humanity is now too dire to merely chuckle at our cultural fear of death and the unknown. We must be called to do more than just laugh in the face of our uneasiness – otherwise we are permitted to leave the theater and return to whichever of many microscopic groups, by which we define ourselves through a false sense of belonging. And there, in that dangerous state of isolation and illusion, the salience of our mortality again becomes lost. We must be instead called to act, to live with full consciousness, in accordance with the belief that everything is connected – beyond death, across time and place – and that nothing can be resolved sustainably in isolation.
Moving forward, let us embrace dance as a means of communicating compassion and empathy, of encouraging communion with all that is. Let us be reminded that these are the qualities that we are so desperately lacking in our relations with others and with the natural world, that must be embodied on a massive scale if we truly want to live in a more just society.
Alison Hoyer re-located to SLC after completed a degree in linguistics at McAlister.