Movement Forum surprised me last weekend at B-Sides and Rarities, a one-night engagement at Sugar Space. I wish I’d come at seven (they did two shows in one night) and everyone in the cast lamented that I’d missed the earlier show. But I certainly didn’t feel cheated by what I saw, in fact I left feeling encouraged in a way that I haven’t in a long time.
The program notes were printed on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet that the audience was encouraged to write on and throw onstage during the performance. The dancers and three musicians began warming up on stage, the lights and conversation dimmed and everyone adjourned from the middle of the space except for Michael Watkiss, who stood with an unusual presence for several seconds before beginning a gestural solo which seemed to develop the character his costume began: holey dress pants and a too-nice button up.
Watkiss’s dance took a long slow turn for the introspective as he looked at his body up and down, cataloging the possibilities and searching patiently for some unexpected resonance in the folding and unfolding of his joints. The other dancers stood around him like a gang in the shadows out of some dance musical film from the fifties. They began to take turns narrating his solo in a sort of dialectic exquisite corpse. Now he’s a father. But he’s a dead beat dad. Now he’s twenty-six. There’s some kind of mental illness. Now he’s having an affair. Now he’s thirty. I’ve seen this kind of text-based work before, but rarely have I seen it with such tenderness between the performers. The framing and reframing that the other performers provided was excellently timed. It really made me think about truth and fiction and how the artifice of performance was functioning. I can’t tell you how his abstract dancing moved me in a different way that it might have out of context, but I know that it has stayed with me and I’m still digesting it. I’d also like to take the opportunity to comment on how much Watkiss’s dancing has developed since I last saw him perform in May. Something is happening; during his training at the U he managed to preserve a rare sense of interior monologue in his dancing, but now he’s taking it into space with a clarity and humor I didn’t know he was capable of.
The progression of the evening was rambling in a charming way, they didn’t have any real concrete plan, which is not an easy thing to pull off, especially with a cast of almost twenty. There were some impressive interludes of explosive dancing to the amiable music of the live band (Alex Aponte, Trevor Price and Randal Topper), including a bombastic little number that looked a little bit like a Tere O’Connor dance falling out of an airplane (danced by Sherisa Bly, Corrine Penka and Eileen Rojas). The cast also undertook a sort of movement roast of departing and founding director Graham Brown who dived, leapt and tired himself with his usual inimitable athleticism. His dancers barraged him with loving jibes and crumpled airplane’s whose comments from the audience had already been turned into a series of experiments ranging from a hilarious deep lunging routine led by sassy Corinne Penka and an awkwardly funny send up of the late king of pop whose initials are M.J. (danced by Sofia Gorder and Jersey Reo Riemo).
Before it was all over there was a brightly surreal trio with blind-folds and another stunning performance by Watkiss, this time joined by the equally witty Danell Hathaway, who will direct the company when Brown moves to Maryland to pursue graduate school this fall. Watkiss told us of a fantastic encounter with a giant talking spider (a dream? an acid trip?). As Watkiss was disarmed by this invisible figment of his subconscious, Hathaway playfully tried to undress him, he batted her off, much as one might an annoying insect. Here were performers dancing with a real sense of metaphor, and making it up as they went along. Some deep, but very playful investigation was happening that night and I was grateful to be invited inside of it.