The curtains don’t open (there are no curtains) but the lights have dimmed. Still, a tiny bit of light leaks in from stage left, where three drapes hide the entrances to the black box. One dancer takes center stage as another crosses in the back and exits stage right. All of this the audience has agreed not to notice, as we sit waiting for an evening of work by Rosie Trump, Sugar Space’s artist-in-residence. Rosie Trump has traveled from Nevada with her dancers for this show, promising a work exploring the domestic, professional and political pressures surrounding the contemporary woman.
The lights slowly rise on a lone dancer, Laura Gutierrez, and a mechanical voice fills the space listing something not quite distinguishable. Gutierrez is garbed in ankle-length slacks, with a button-down top and a slim black tie. She starts with a simple nod which grows until her bobbing head seesaws back and forth, sternum rolling in response. The movement and sound stop. A new series of lists begins with a different small movement of the hand, growing larger until it involves the full body. This pattern repeats for the duration of the dance, at moments on the brink of predictability, then interrupted. In one such interruption, the mechanical voice resolves into “binders full of red women, binders full of yellow women,” echoing the title ____ Full of Women. Gutierrez’ brief solo is listed as the first section of a three section evening of work, comprised of a series of vignettes. ____ Full of Women offers a strong statement of intent for the evening.
The dancers were clothed like a binder full of women, in various black, white and gray patterns of cheap-looking business casual outfits. I imagined these costumes were purchased from Target, as I’d just tried on shades of these ‘work’ outfits there the day before. I wonder about the significance of this costume choice. What does it means to purchase a business casual wardrobe on a modern dance budget? Costumes from H&M or Target are a common choice for independent artists in SLC, and in the context of this feminist-themed piece I wondered if Rosie was making an intentional comment on the way that women purchasing cheap clothes in the Global North results in unjust labor conditions in the Global South. Or, more likely, she was using the limited budget available. A third possibility struck me as a comment on the ill-fitting, androgynous aesthetic that is also common on the SLC stage. I questioned what kind of contemporary woman these Target-type clothes are made for, and similarly, who this evening of work was addressed toward. As a white, cis female, I feel like both were made for me.
The common choreographic motif of starting simply with a pedestrian movement which builds and develops into an aestheticized version of itself was especially effective in the vignette Chair Games. Three dancers (Ellen Duffy, Katie Jean Dahlaw, and Eve Allen), dance with two chairs. They start simply with walking patterns, placing the chairs down in different places around center stage, sitting and jumping off each others laps, gradually speeding up before adding text. “Please” to each other, “thank you” to the audience, a kind “yes,” sitting with legs crossed. Suddenly a dancer flips her chair, straddling it with a hearty “you’re welcome.” A moment of comedy, I laugh. At another moment in the evening a dancer rolls down in the beginning-of-dance class style and ends with her feet raised in imagined stirrups at the OB-GYN, another recognizable moment that was funny as a cameo among other ideas.
Rosie Trump bills her work as political, yet understated. Throughout the evening I considered the distinction between understating and under-physicalizing movement. Katie Jean Denlaw found a way to be both understated and fully physicalized as she threw her body to the floor in a harsh repeating pattern during 28 More or Less. At another moment in the same dance both Denlaw and her partner Eve Allen acted out a list of famous female choreographers at age 28, clutching their hands like Martha Graham and enacting Yvonne Rainer’s casual skips in a manner that had me chuckling. In Forming and Norming the entire cast found their eloquent understatements as they flowed through the space in a walking pattern, sensing each other’s lead, circling arms guiding the score. This flowing score transitioned into a jagged improvisation of starts and stops, reminiscent of break dancing.
At other moments in the evening, when the movement seemed under-physicalized, the content felt overstated. Such a moment occurred in Vampire, when the dancers emerged from the wings in shiny gold shortsuits to vamp for the audience. The dancing was sexy ironic featuring simple ball changes and circling butts, but I missed a comment beyond “women’s bodies are often sexualized.” Pushing the physical embodiment of the movement could yield a different or more ambiguous interpretation. I was similarly left with questions in the concluding dance, We are Women and We are Sorry. The dancers talked to the audience repeating all their sorries; “we are sorry for having opinions, we are sorry for saying sorry,” etc. The audience was laughing, it was a lovely light-hearted moment to end. Despite the lighthearted nature, this vignette and others addressed classic feminist issues that remain relevant today - abortion rights, the roles that women play in many arenas and social inequities in how female bodies enact these roles. While recognizing the continued relevance of these issues, I wonder how the dance could more clearly and directly consider the intersections of race, class, sexuality and nationality. Though the cast included a diverse group of women, the content of the text and movement felt directed towards a more narrow perspective of contemporary womanhood.
Fill in the Blank was the perfect kind of work to be in Sugar Space; theatrical yet intimate, accessible but filled with ambiguity. The vignette structure helped, keeping our attention engaged with a series of ideas around a bigger thought. The lighting designer Jonathon W. Taylor was pivotal as well, his efforts especially noticeable in The Two Body Problem, where two circles of warm light highlighted the dancers’ movement without overpowering the space. This section, one of my favorites, was also among the most abstract in terms of content. The Two Body Problem was a lovely duet between Laura Gutierrez and Ellen Duffy, to a driving club beat that had me tapping my heels in my seat. Alternating who moves first, it felt almost like a dance off, but with bodies close to each other like a deconstructed contact improvisation. When placed in the context of the other, more explicitly political vignettes of the evening, this was a refreshing moment that carried multiple meanings.
The line between understatement, overstatement, ambiguity, and content is truly challenging in political dance. It was one that Rosie Trump and her performers handled deftly, kudos to them for taking on charged content and exploring it in a strange city.
Liz Ivkovich is the editor of the printed edition of loveDANCEmore. She hails from Middle America and recently completed her MFA in Modern Dance at the U.