at Hamlin Park Pool
In a culture obsessed with doctrine, statistics, and the bottom line, what's the value of uncertainty? Of losing your bearings instead of finding them? Of imagination? Of theater? Choreographer Carrie Hanson takes on such questions in a new piece for the Seldoms, Giant Fix. Staged in an empty outdoor pool, it's based on personal experience: with her eyes closed before going to sleep, she explains in her notes to the piece, she sometimes sees images that change size and shape dramatically. "Everything in this place slips around--scale, comprehension, footing," she writes. In Giant Fix six dancers move about, mostly up and down the length of the pool, while lights, projections, and live electronic music wash over the action. The audience is seated either at the shallow or the deep end, so a lot of the time you're either very close to the dancers or very far from them.
Though the piece is somewhat dreamlike, it isn't nearly as organized as a dream. There's no narrative, no characterization, and little emotion. The environment itself plays a huge role, adding a kind of randomness and serendipity that places this theatrical piece in the continuum of everyday life. I heard not only the music but a car revving its engine, a plane passing overhead, the wind in the trees. I saw not only the dancers but two cops wander in from the field house; two kids return to their seats after getting more cocoa; clouds occasionally illuminated by a searchlight, whose sweep at one breathtaking moment recapitulated the passage of a dancer's upright forearms from one side of his body to the other.
But these random intrusions and additions also heighten the sense that Giant Fix is distinct from its environment--that it's intentional and therefore theatrical. The people moving about within the pool, wearing Lara Miller's layered, laced ragtag costumes, are not part of everyday life; instead they seem like warriors on a journey or mission. Andy Hasenpflug and Corbett Lunsford's music suggests all sorts of recognizable sounds--grunting, squeaking, whispering, cheery video-game piping, Japanese percussion, free jazz--but it's a far more surreal mix than even the most random auditory experience. It also rises and flows and ebbs with the action, building subtly but unmistakably to a climax. Margaret Nelson's lighting and Lisa Barcy's projections transform the dancers from one minute to the next, casting them in full light, in silhouette, or in relationship to flowing or oddly fractured shadows. Set pieces, like the ropes splayed out cobweb-style across the pool and the balls rolled along its length during a brief break, are clearly intended to produce laughter or wonderment: what could this mean?
The dancing stubbornly resists interpretation, though it becomes more compelling over the hour-long piece. Despite some odd, fascinating duets in the first half--as when one couple rolls apart while two others walk slowly, effortfully, one partner leaning on the other in a nearly horizontal position--the performers seem more connected to one another in the second. Certain moments stand out: one dancer briefly, companionably, placing a hand on another's back between the shoulder blades; dancers seemingly twirling others with hands placed gently atop heads; all six performers embracing and then slowly separating while still holding hands; a final whirling fall to the pool floor and an inching forward, facedown. The chill in the air the night I attended made me hyperaware of the dancers' bare feet and arms: their contact with the pool's walls or floor sent shivers down my spine, heightening the usual tactility of watching dance.
The most striking thing about Giant Fix is the sense of community it creates--a paradoxical notion when you consider the piece has such a personal source. Sometimes such subjectivity in art can seem unproductive and self-indulgent, perhaps especially so in times of war and natural disaster. Suffering and calamity seem to have produced a greater need for certainty in our country and a heightening of doctrinal differences. People seldom talk about humanism these days--it seems like a luxury we can no longer afford. Hanson's emphasis on shifting perspectives and on the interconnectedness of art and life reminds us of the value of humanism, of gentleness and uncertainty and imagination, even of relativism. You're constantly aware that the people at the other end of the pool are seeing something very different from what you're seeing. And sometimes it's good to be reminded that the only rule is that there are no rules.
When: 10/14-10/15: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM
Where: Hamlin Park pool, 3035 N. Hoyne
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/T.W. Li.