For its fourth show, NOW-ID presented the multi-collaborative performance Exodus to Salt Lake audiences July 27-29. While the company has previously opted for less conventional spaces—the Masonic Temple and Saltair are two examples—Exodus was presented at the University of Utah’s Marriott Center for Dance, and aimed to focus on the human need to migrate. NOW-ID, which was co-founded by choreographer Charlotte Boye-Christensen and architect Nathan Webster, seeks to collaborate with a range of artists from various fields, and Exodus incorporated instrumental music and operatic singing. In a similar vein, as a reviewer I was interested in how non-dancers, or those not steeped in the dance community, would respond to the piece as a whole, so I watched and discussed the piece with two of my guests at Exodus, one a New York book publisher specializing in genre fiction and another who is a local special-education consultant.
The curtain is drawn to reveal two dancers—Tara McArthur and Adrian Fry—facing each other while going through an abstracted version of a departure/arrival greeting. Behind them stand two parallel facing chain-link fences (designed by Nathan Webster and Gary Vlasic). Opera singers Nana Bugge Rasmussen and Jakob Bloch stand trapped between the fences, voices piercing the space, providing the arresting image of restricted potential (or at least mobility), due to circumstance.
Text is spoken by Rasmussen and Bloch as they traverse the space, interacting with the three dancers (McArthur and Fry now joined by Katherine Lawrence) and speaking on a range of subjects from home and religion to musings on what constitutes a good life. Visually the space is saturated with set, sound and movement, but all aspects in this section pull and push in a way that is alive with possibility. In general, Rasmussen and Bloch, although not trained dancers, have several movement sections (directed by Rolf Heim) that add to the human struggle that is often conjured when speaking of mass migration. They push each other, cradle each other, and even enact a tug-a-war with a microphone cord. Their movements are unrefined yet essential to propelling the issue at stake.
With Fry, Lawrence performs a duet that slices and tilts, her body placed in precarious positions through which she somehow maintains balance. The movement is angular and driving, defined and relentless.
In another section, McArthur and Lawrence are seated, constrained between the two fences, moving through a series of gestures and choreographed collapses in strict unison. While they are two dancers coming from different sects of the dance world (Lawrence from ballet and McArthur from modern) they keep pace with each other, and have found commonalty in clean, propelled movement. With its innovative choreography and adept dancers, this section is both satisfying and striking, two bodies cooly moving in an enclosed environment.
There are challenges when taking on a theme as ambitious as human migration. My guest who works in publishing noted a discrepancy between her notions of all that surrounds an exodus and the choreographic material: while the other aspects of the show (design, music, etc.) supported a sense of longing, entrapment and hope, the actual choreography portrayed a more aggressive, and at times even a clockwork sort of experience. My other guest was more willing to seek meaning and metaphor in the rigid and quick-paced choreography, opting to read it as a comment on the treatment of newcomers, particularly refugees, or how they may feel traveling in less than ideal circumstances. I fell somewhere in the middle, acknowledging the discrepancy between the pace of the choreography and the baggage that I bring to the theme, while considering that within any theme, including an exodus, there exists a diverse range of experiences and resources. The choreography did not provide an emotional context, but it did contribute to the visual landscape.
While none among us agreed completely on these points, we all found consensus on the success of the ending—McArthur lies, in a pool of light, weighted and surrendered, crushed or maybe refined, on the outside of the fence.
After the Salt Lake City premiere, Exodus toured to Denmark, where it was performed at the Copenhagen Opera Festival A
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
Erica Womack is a Salt Lake based choreographer. She teaches at SLCC and regularly contributes to loveDANCEmore.