To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, dance artist Blake Nellis shares his perspective on Jurij Konjar’s performance of Steve Paxton’s Bound (1982), part of Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!
The piece begins with sound and darkness. The lights take their time fading up. And then we can better see the four 2×4’s strewn (or placed intentionally) about the edges of the black floor. Against the upstage wall there appears to be a rectangular screen covered in camouflage material. In walks Jurij Konjar, dressed in red tights, white t-shirt, and suspenders holding a cardboard box around his midsection. He appears to be a tired a superhero from a lesser known comic book. His face is expressionless, although intriguing and handsome, as he stands motionless for us to look at him.
Konjar begins to unfold his cardboard box revealing flaps covered with camouflage material. He is careful in transforming his box, but not too careful. To complete his persona he donnes a vintage pair of sunglasses and black swim cap. Now, it appears, we are ready for take off.
I wonder “how would Steve dance this if the year was 1982?” as my eyes dart around the black stage finding wood, camo, and a projector being rolled to center stage. The back wall becomes an optical illusion, almost. Konjar places himself in front of the screen, virtually disappearing. The movements here are accurate, specific, and spell-binding. We know this is being made up. We understand the power of improvisation. We are waiting patiently as this dancer points, stretches, and carves the space without giving us too much to digest at once. He faces away from us so we can see the projection on his white shirt and find his arms extending ever so slightly from those short sleeves. It’s time for him to move the projector. He gathers the chord, pushes it off to its resting place stage left and walks diagonally behind the curtain. We will see the projector again. And we will see this piece being composed in front of us. Konjar takes his time, like Paxton always does, to let us guess what might come next. The potential energy is palpable, even though in the back of our minds we know this could be the Bound climax.
The dancing flirts with gesture, repetition, and surprise. The dancer searches the space for another place to almost do something. It is a pleasure to watch him calculate and observe. He finds a rocking chair and baby cradle, both wooden and slightly creaky. This becomes a game of sound, rocking with a few swift pushes from his hand. Audience members begin coughing, clearing throats, even melodious sneezes add to the sound score. (My partner and I are distracted and shifting in our seats, hoping that the “coughers” will take a breath.) We see nothing fazes Konjar. He rocks until his heart’s content. We know he’s on to something.
My favorite part of the work felt like a dancing dream, complete with costume change (Konjar wears all white for the remainder of the show). The “White Section” has what we hope every dance piece would have: a person on stage inspiring us, dancing in a way that we cannot, or at least we cannot fully predict. We can follow the dance like we can follow jazz, best if we close our eyes.
Here I take the time to imagine the Paxton/Konjar journey:
energy ascending the spine
playing with gravity
being serious with gravity
listening for rests
looking for the end/beginning
Konjar navigates the stage like a firefly trapped in a man’s body. He jerks and twists and slides across the floor. I know these sensations. His physical intelligence is gripping and still mostly filled with potential energy. Like a young Steve Paxton, Jurij Konjar invites us to see each move for the first time. His physical orientation is often mysterious and off-balance. I enjoy watching as his head whips around to see what is behind him. It seems to surprise him, too, and his body torques and recovers like a fish out of water for just a moment. All the while, an expressionless face. [Could his body possibly express even one more thing without his face finally breaking just a little to reveal some inner secret?] But we keep watching as the sweat soaks through the white t-shirt.
The effort feels generous. The spine and signature of Paxton, present just enough. Konjar unravels a spool of twine as he walks backwards and then forwards. With his swim cap he makes his way to the finish line. It is beautiful and poetic. We remember now the unfolding of the cardboard box as we realize we have seen the unfolding of a master’s piece. A new piece has been made. Bound (2014).
Composing Forward: The Art of Steve Paxton continues with Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson’s performance of Night Stand (2004), Friday–Saturday, November 21–22, 2014 in the McGuire Theater. Writer Blake Nellis is a Twin Cities based dancer, choreographer and educator. This year’s Choreographers’ Evening, curated by Kenna Cottman, will include an improvised work by Nellis and long-time collaborator Taja Will.