Eve, seated atop Adam’s shoulders, turned to look at the portraits of Sarah Michelson and Richard Maxwell. The creation gazed upon the images of the creators of her world, influential drivers of the performers’ devotion. This intimate moment occurred near the end of an evening marked by extended solos and duets replete with precise, linear movements supported by minimal preparation. A feat of endurance, focus, and technique requiring intense commitment in preparation and performance, Sarah Michelson’s Devotion was aesthetically austere, yet earnest in execution.
Eve’s interaction was one of multiple moments of self-referentiality scattered throughout the piece. The evening’s narrator was placed prominently in the audience, the paintings of Michelson and Maxwell loomed over the project, and the text directly referenced the choreographer. From the outset, Devotion guided audience members into a pensive state, setting up a series of extended solos and vignettes. This duration was combined with the decision to envelop audience members in light for long sequences, encouraging both an awareness of the act of watching as well as an attention to the passage of time. A few of these audiences members chose to gather after the performance for a SpeakEasy, an informal conversation about the work whose themes are highlighted in this blog.
Devotion was a piece of contrasts. The evening opened with a formal tone as the narrator described Biblical stories. The seeming disinterestedness of this godlike voice stood out against the openness and intense exertion of the performers, as well as the informal, athletic costumes. The meticulous and stilted movements were paired with the music of Philip Glass, whose repetition combined with incremental variation implied growth and progression, pressing the work forward despite the lack of momentum allowed by the choreography. The early and closing texts presented distinct bookends for the evening, beginning with the grandeur of the Bible and ending with a sentimental personal narrative, the magnitude of the object of devotion juxtaposed with the small life and actions of the devotee.
Given the evening’s themes and the endurance required by both performances, Devotion could be compared to last year’s Heaven by local choreographer Morgan Thorson. Whereas Heaven explored the power of community, the dancers of Devotion did not strive to create a sense of seeking through and with a group. Maxwell’s early text described a sense of undifferentiation experienced in the Garden of Eden broken into the establishment of self/other upon departure. This emphasis on the soloist was present throughout the work, with dancers performing together, yet maintaining their separateness as individuals striving each on their own.
Beyond referencing itself as a work by Michelson, the piece referenced a number of Michelson’s influences – great names in modern dance from the latter decades of the 20th century. The costumes were reminiscent of Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, while the movement vocabulary reminded audience members of Merce Cunningham‘s technique or Lucinda Childs’ Available Light. The usage of Philip Glass’ music, and the repetition of specific compositions, struck some as both appropriate for the piece as well as ironic, given the popularity of Glass among dance makers.
There will be an opportunity to experience one of Michelson’s influences, Lucinda Childs, when her remount of the 1979 piece Dance, also set to music by Philip Glass, visits the Walker the second weekend in April. Join us in the balcony bar following the performance on April 9 for the last SpeakEasy of the season!
Read more responses to Devotion by clicking here