Dance’s Archaeological Dig
by Meredith Bove, january 2018
In dance, there are two timescales. The first is immediate and meteoric, where flashes of presence and gesture appear and disappear in an instant. We barely come to know a flick of the wrist, eyelid flutter, or crane of the neck before these images have dissolved into the next. Here we are at the performative moment—pay attention, sit close to the edge of your seat, do not blink. But making dance occurs on another timescale entirely, where changes occur so glacially, at times nothing appears to be changing at all. Like erosion, dance making sometimes seems to consist of small, incremental shifts occurring on the day-to-day, remaining imperceptible to anyone not looking.
To watch something slow and steady come into focus is to watch time pass. Around one year ago, I sat in a studio in Northampton, MA as Bebe Miller and Susan Rethorst tended to movement material. I fixed my attention on the meandering, non-direct, and yes, slow process of dance making and waited for the unseen to come into view. As I contemplated the dancers’ approximated repetitions, their starts and restarts, I was reminded of the hidden, often unwelcome gift of slowness. “The Making Room” lingers on instances that are prone to disappearance—the anticlimax of rehearsal, the conversation that bleeds overtime, or the thought that coalesces during the half-fog of morning coffee.
Zooming into these moments can expose fractals of human experience that might otherwise remain in shadow. Videos by Lily Skove and Ellen Maynard capture the depths of meaning in everyday bodily presence. In addition to highlighting the simultaneously mundane and transcendent, these artifacts (video, writing, images, recorded audio) can help serve as mnemonic devices, reminders of the ways in which the rehearsal is embedded in performance. The unseen aspects of dance making (conversations, thoughts, fundraising, tangents, failures, injuries) are found in the performative moment, shining through in the interstices between visible gestures.
Dance’s two timescales are inextricably entwined. Beneath the flash of performance lie layers of subterranean experience. “The Making Room” invites excavation of these experiences so we might hold them in open air, right next to the present. Awareness of the immediate while simultaneously sensing the past strikes me a kind of double consciousness. Archival documents can illuminate the threads that tether the past to the present. Placed next to the performative moment, these traces might invite us to witness dancing bodies as human beings, deeply engaged in processes of accumulation, change, and remembrance.