In New York I was able to see brilliant dancing at least once a week, but since I moved to Columbus the rigor of schoolwork has got in the way. Luckily, I was able to see Jan Martens' The Dog Days Are Over this past Sunday. It was an immensely satisfying piece, including all my favorite qualities of contemporary dance: abstraction, repetition, exhaustion, recuperation, proximity, facility, craft, and sweat. Oh, and jumping. Lots and lots of jumping.
Below is a trailer video of the work, a snippet of rehearsal footage, and then a long-ish response I wrote that focuses on three sections of the dance. If you make it through that I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts in in the comments.
Photo above by The New York Times.
The program notes from Jan Marten’s The Dog Days Are Over asks the question, “A repetitive feat, executed to exhaustion that will prove the dancers to be nothing more than performers, at the service of…yes, what exactly?” After 70 minutes of continuous jumping and pattern-making, I think the answer depends on who is doing the asking and who is answering—especially in the three specific sections of the work that I describe below.
The first section is the opening of the work, which actually takes place before we enter the theater. We can view this as Susan Foster’s convention of the framing of the performance, or “the way the dance sets itself apart as a unique event” (59). We enter as a group to find the dancers indirectly milling about upstage, stretching, adjusting their costumes and eyeing the audience. The seats have been moved forward so that the proscenium is erased and we are sharing space with the dancers. Then the energy changes abruptly as they come downstage on a straight, direct path, and put on sneakers. A line of all eight dancers is formed, each of them perfectly stable in place and focusing intently on the audience. Slowly they begin to rise and sink, keeping their arms in place, but just in front of the hips. As the pace increases, the rising and sinking becomes a strong and quick spoking of the whole body, evolving into the jumps that continue for the duration of the work. Next, the dancers move closer together, carving past each other while maintaining stability and bound flow in the upper body. As they converge they become one body, and the sustainment of the jumping becomes evident and dreamlike. They are simultaneously asking each other to be included and answering in the affirmative; in other words, to answer Marten’s question, they are in service to each other.
In the second section, all eight dancers form a single file line stretching from upstage to downstage, and begin to jump back and forth along the vertical plane while maintaining the line. From the audiences’ perspective, the single file-ness of the line appears as oe long pin when it is directly in front, and a series of diagonal pins when looked at it obliquely. The line dissolves into complex pathways which appear indirect and display spatial tension. These direct paths call to mind the floor patterns in Baroque court dances, which were meant to be viewed from above. From this viewpoint it might appear that the strong, downward motion of each jump has become light and free, as if the dancers were being picked up and dropped. Also, the bound energy in the upper body and arms begins to relax, the fingers extend, and the fists unclench. The kinesphere of each dancer is proximal, but the group explores the periphery of the available space. This section serves the audience, as if asked to participate in the dream state.
The third section at the end of the work focuses on the individuality of each dancer through exertion and recuperation. The dancers play with phrases that include hints of Lindy, the Charleston, aerobics, and folk dance. Feet are flexed, arms carve through space as they swing, weight is shifted from side to side, torsos flex and extend, and breath deepens. Sustained, higher jumps use counter-tension between limbs to create large arcs that reach for the periphery, but in between these phrases there are periods of breathing. This section serves the dancers and the audience, as we see the uniqueness of each dancer despite the rhythm of the jumping.
I thoroughly enjoyed this performance, and was intrigued with the expression “Dog Days” in the work’s title. That phrase refers to a time of stagnation, so to say that those days are over in the context of this dance is to say that it’s time to move.
Foster, Susan Leigh. Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dance. Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London: University of California Press, 1986. Print.