The following review is courtesy of Emily Johnson, Director of catalyst dance
I kept thinking about being on a bus. During “ Daylight (for Minneapolis)” by Sarah Michelson on Sunday night, I sat on the constructed risers built on the stage. Sitting there, face forward, with more space and more audience members behind than in front felt conspicuous. Someone near me wondered outloud if the audience members on the balcony knew more than we did, he questioned whether we were supposed to use these seats at all. On a bus, you choose your seat, sit and wait. The vehicle (space) you are in moves you physically from one place to another. Riders get on, get off – and each one, as they walk or get hoisted up those couple of steps to the main bus aisle – provides those already seated with a chance to look (scrutinize? judge?). Some people get on the bus looking down, pick a seat, pull out a book and wait with the rest. Some get on and recognizing someone else already seated, shout hello and begin a distanced communication – disrupting or enhancing (depending on how you take it) the ride. Some riders are drunk and belligerent, some you hope don’t pick the empty seat near you, some you get up for so they can have your seat, some strangers you begin to know by sight because the bus route doesn’t change and your schedules don’t that much either. As each rider chooses how they enter and act on the bus they change the fragile dynamic built amongst those who have already ridden blocks or miles together. You don’t get much of a chance to relate to fellow bus riders – inhibitions or habits or shortage of time all play a role in that. And as you sit, taking in the oncoming passengers or ignoring them completely, you have the option to look out the window. You do not; however have the option to stop exactly when you want in order to take in a scene more completely. You have the few seconds it takes to pass something by – someone crying on the sidewalk, a kid running after a grown-up, a tree, a particular garden. You have a limited view, it is obstructed by other passengers and by your original choice of seat.
It was similar last night at the Walker. One audience member, growing impatient and perhaps feeling conspicuous as well – stood up, turned around and yelled to us all, “ This is ridiculous. You are all sitting here, waiting for the show to start?” We could call her the belligerent bus rider. We had all made our way to these seats, passed huge drawings of people we recognized or didn’t, and passed girls and a Mickey revealed along the buildings edges or crooks – or they revealed the edges and crooks – (depending on how you take it). Some of us realized there really was no official start,’ still, we looked behind, we grew impatient, some got up to look over the big wall that was the back of our seating. Those on the balcony were restless too, I could see them and hear them. The talking was loud and I admit, I felt disloyal. I felt like turning around to catch a glimpse of one of the girls, posturing herself in a position that obscured her face and her individual identity (all girls were dressed the same, save the differing patterns printed onto their nude leotards) was disloyal to the huge effort it must have taken to design and construct the seating I was in and the wall I was facing. It is my habit, when sitting on a bus or in a theater – to sit facing forward and more or less still. Here is the crux of this particular work. I believe this piece was made to encourage us to look/experience our surroundings (in this case, the Walker and the McGuire Theater) in a more thoughtful way than we are accustomed. I believe it was made in order that we would have to face our habits. Built within this mission, however, were barriers to the exact goal. We could not sit or stand or walk as the more-or-less passive people we usually are. Even to sit and admire – really admire (or hate) the structure or the referencing of the afore mentioned girls doing the afore mentioned postures along the wall of windows facing Hennepin meant that you were missing something somewhere else. We were made to decide whether sitting still or getting up to look were our best option. It made many uncomfortable – which in fact, reassures the very habits we use to protect ourselves and increases inhibition. Partly because of this increased inhibition, “Daylight” did not encourage IMMEDIATE exploration, I think most people were perfectly settled on finding the stage,’ simply passing by the scenes they encountered en route. I would have liked “ Daylight” to create a mad scene in which people were running about trying to catch at least a small part of everything, but the scale (those portraits were huge) and the pace (the posturing was slow) created, instead the fairly normal scene within a museum/performance space which is of a quiet politeness.
“Daylight” did completely thwart expectations – which is, of course, an exploration all its own. Coming into a theater or a gallery, we expect we will have the chance to see/experience everything that we paid for. Good’ audience members are purposefully taking time to immerse themselves in something outside of their personal, everyday experience. This is perhaps what Sarah Michelson enjoys most – creating a place in which you cannot escape your personal, everyday habits. If some of your habits make you uncomfortable, it might be difficult to watch a performance and if you expect an easy time, perhaps Sarah Michelson’s performances are exactly what you need to watch. We are all looking for something better – better sneakers, a better job, a better place to live…and Sarah created a piece that drums up the inescapable feeling that we are missing something, that there is something better happening just over there – where we cannot get to or see. So you sit – and become obsessed with what you cannot have even while there is plenty happening right before you. You question yourself – did you pick the right seat, did you come to the right show? You get so worried about “ getting enough” and to me, that points out that the self induced importance we place on what we actually see/experience is based on what we value. If we value getting it all’ we won’t ever be satisfied and if this piece is supposed to reference the architecture of Herzog and deMerron, it does it best by pointing out that we cannot take it all in at once. One has to walk the halls, ride the elevator, be on the outdoor balcony at 5am, then 5pm to note the changing light…All of this outside of the art that happens within, on and around the physical building. We are comfortable with the notion of exploring a building (even if we never actually take full initiative to do it on our own) because a building is a static thing, it does not move (of its own free will), does not sweat, does not shit. Right – the unbeautiful ways that we are human are what make us the most challenging to explore which is why the staging of the humans (rather than the staging of the building) in “ Daylight (for Minneapolis)” was most intriguing.
I sat above the normal stage’ (the risers took up maybe 3/4 of the stage space) and watched four dancers squeeze themselves and their space eating dancing onto a square footage that seemed much too small for them. Sarah Michelson had literally reduced the theater and I thought of the thousands of choreographers who, unable to afford a space to their liking or unable to be presented make use of their lofts or a storefront, or a theater that’s just too small for them. I wondered why this piece called “ Daylight,” that utilizes both architectural findings and a very long, narrow dancing space couldn’t be performed in say, an alley. I say “ Daylight” would look beautiful in an alley; however, as odd as it sounds, an alley would make “ Daylight” too accessible. And this is where I admire what Sarah Michelson knows about humanity and what she tries to usurp. We (ah ha) expect strange things to happen when we watch dance in an alley and we assume we might not be comfortable. Sarah Michelson needed this beautiful, fancy theater with an amazing spectrum of lighting options and sound quality to lay her base. Her base is recognizably dance but the way that the light was made to create walls, to add spectacle, to illuminate the space between the floor and ceiling and the purposefully empty seats is how she generates a new form. The way she took a recognizable theater and changed where the walls were and where we sat is how she stirred our brains into seeing that dance and performance is vital – on stage, on sidewalks, and in alleys. The concept of seeing, the concept of perception, the concept of want, the concept of beauty and functionality – they are all placed in your hands during “ Daylight” and you either hold them preciously as though they were fragile, form them into something useful for you, or drop them on your way out the door.
All this concept and what delighted me the most was a Mickey coming onto the stage and holding her big, oversized head in her hands. The Mickey made sense. As on a bus, or in this piece, the characters make sense just by being there. It would be the weirdest thing to be on a bus and have no characters enter, have no one ride it with you. Mickey entering made it seem as though this piece were no longer confined to either the stage,’ the inside of the Walker, or Minneapolis itself. “ Daylight” suddenly occupied a larger space in our minds. And maybe because in actuality I know the image of Mickey more so than I do any of the dancers, I felt acknowledged and I felt a tenderness – both toward the Mickey with her face in her hands and from the piece “ Daylight” itself.
The dancing. The fancy and beautifully executed rigorous, often violent dancing of the main quartet allowed the last solo to be one of the sweetest moments in theater I have ever seen. When “ Daylight” seemed over enough to warrant the resumed chatter and exiting of many audience members, one woman, in the dark, back corner of the stage’ began referencing the dancing the quartet had executed the past hour. I truly thought she was a dancer in the audience who felt compelled to get up and show off for the friends she was with – repeating movement she remembered because she was inspired or because she wanted to make fun of it (I have friends who do this). But no, in an unglorified way (the most unglorified of the whole evening) she made dancing make sense. She took what we had experienced through the movement of the quartet and saudered it down to the essential. Combined with one of the sweetest songs you may ever hear, it’s like it illuminated within you every opportunity you have ever missed – in a way that made you think – “ I will never again miss the opportunity to run, arms outstretched in a field! “ or “ I will never again miss the opportunity to let what I happen to have the fortune/misfortune to see/experience/catch in this life affect me to my deepest core!” When I had arrived to my seat an hour before I noted the built in doorless doorway in this constructed makeshift wall and I thought, “ they must have left that open for a reason.” When that space, that wall, and that light emanating from it literally engulfed that dancer – it made me think that we really can reimagine places and reimagine each other. The home you grew up in can hold a beautiful memory perfectly intact, a lone brick wall from a knocked down factory can offer you a place to lean against, a newly redesigned museum and newly built theater can offer a million opportunities just by existing and the next person that walks up those stairs onto the bus is much more than a stranger to you – we are all much more than we seem at initial glance (in real life or portrait).