Jeanine Durning’s To Being: Dance review by Inky Lee
To Being, a dance by Jeanine Durning is a rich sensory experience. You hear the dancers’ breath and smell their sweat as they come close—nearly close enough to touch. Yet something about it seems starved as well. Described by Ms. Durning as “nonstop moving as performance,” To Being features four performers (Julian Barnett, Molly Poerstel, Tian Rotteveel, and Durning herself) improvising vigorously for about an hour in a fast and unfaltering tempo. Ms. Durning’s work clearly demonstrates the concept of constant motion, but does little to move beyond its literal task.
Before the show, the dancers casually stroll around and greet the audience members as we walk into the brightly lit room. Chairs are scattered in a loose circle near the edge of the space, allowing us to see each other throughout the performance. When Ms. Durning cues the beginning of the performance by turning off the air conditioner, the dancers exit the space. The silence buzzes with expectation; then a droning hum fills the space. The dancers reenter through the main entrance of the theater with the bursting energy of hungry animals. However, there is a drastic shift in their presence: those we have just met as humans reappear as performers in the “zone.” Their gaze is blank as their focus turns inward. Despite the physical proximity, the interaction between the dancers and the audience feels impersonal; they treat us much as they treat the inanimate objects they incorporate into their improvisation.
Arms carve the space in circular pathways and legs throw themselves into high kicks, small hops, and jumps. Spines undulate and pelvises thrust in rhythm. The heels, often in relevé, create a sense of haste, as if the dancers are constantly running away from something unknown. In staccato motions, the dancers hit the walls and objects around them to generate sharp sounds. Each dancer’s body pants with unrefined movements that show little aesthetic consideration.
In the program note, Ms. Durning asks, “What does it take to stay in action?” The dancers seem to find an answer in their ceaselessly search for inspiration from objects, the architecture of the space, and each other. By the end of the piece, almost everything in the room—chairs, lights, speakers, fire extinguisher, ladder, rug, shirts—has been used. Speakers are tapped, carried, and climbed on; the ladder and the fire extinguisher have been brought into the middle of the space. At one point, Ms. Durning opens a window and pulls in tree branches from outside. These scattered actions become obsessive as the dancers desperately hunt for something new, then quickly move on. The dancers demonstrate physical devotion; however, their frantic search for the next object or space keeps them distant.
Towards the end, as the energy slows into subtle movements and stillness, a startling change happens: Mr. Barnett really looks at one of the audience members and begins to chatter and laugh. After this initial surprise, he drifts back into the “zone,” again being close to other bodies, yet gazing out and choosing not to share human interaction. Ms. Durning soon follows his example, breaking past the performer’s detachment to chat, embrace, and kiss some people in the audience. The dancers’ switch between engagement and disengagement heightens the disparities between their everyday and performative selves, between the performers and us. While Ms. Durning wants to create a performance “in which the dichotomies between self and other, material and immaterial, thought and action incessantly dissolve,” the dancers’ toggling between their inner and outer worlds fell short of such a breakthrough. Dichotomies were emphasized, not transcended.—Inky Lee
Note: To Being performs Sept 9–19; Durning reprises her celebrated "dance of the mind," inging, from Sept 23–26.
The Chocolate Factory. Choreographed by Jeanine Durning. 1hr. No intermission.