Where to begin with the sublime Good Dance?
Before the performance began, I was comparing the stage to that of another Walker dance performance this season, Bolero Variations. Whereas the stage for Raimund Hoghe was more mysterious, undefined, and open, the stage for The Good Dance is something circumscribed, bare, and exposed. There are no curtains to hide behind like there were in Bolero. But The Good Dance is free from the heavy movements of Bolero, and it exists in a state of play with none of Bolero’s austerity.
Red lights and industrial beats open the show, and the music turns out to be a remix of “Mary, Don’t You Weep” the most jaw-dropping of the tracks on Aretha Franklin’s 1972 live album, Amazing Grace. The track is the most exceptional example I know of both the genre and improvisational genius found in gospel music—the gospel song to send to space—and The Good Dance moves within these rituals and improvisations. The music in Good Dance is so strong, so emotive, from the trance of R.L. Burnside-like blues to the guitar wizardry of Congolese musician Franco.
The Good Dance shifts into a state of play, with disposable water bottles half-empty/half-full kicked and thrown all over the stage. As the bottles are assembled, bowled over, and reassembled on the stage, they create the boundaries within which the dancers move. Since disposable water bottles seem to signify a disconnect from the natural world as much as being a vessel for the life-giving substance of water, it’s tempting to see the dancers moving between this dichotomy throughout the performance. And the water bottles seem to signify many non-literal things as well.
Reggie Wilson asks us to think about what a Good Dance would be in light of the many adherents to the “Good Book”(s). Evoking both the pleasure and pain of rituals, The Good Dance confronts us with the sacrifices necessary for transcendence. It also shows us that it’s only the performer—not the audience member—who can be the most passionate spectator, to both watch and be watched, and it is only the performer who is free to both move and be moved.
Jesse Leaneagh is a Performing Arts Intern for the 2009-2010 season