In Cindy Brandle Dance Company’s (CBDC) new work, From the Ashes, bodies glide, jump, and reach into the sociopolitical conversation of timely issues around marginalization in American culture. While race and gender are highlighted, the piece as a whole represents the urgent need for these conversations, as well as the importance of witnessing the experience of our fellow humans – perhaps as the essential key to understanding and change.
The hour long piece, performed at the Dairy Arts Center on February 7th– 9th, 2020 artfully utilized movement and music, as would be expected, and added further dimensions: voiceovers of poetry by local poets, dancer testimonials, and video projection including the dancer’s movement. The multimedia layers added depth and clarity to the purpose of the piece. The dimension of words integrated smoothly into movement vocabulary that had already been established, so that the text and dance supported one another in a graceful manner.
Another dimension, metal folding chairs, one for each dancer, remained on stage for the entirety of the piece – at times appearing to support the dancers’ movement, such as pushing off into handstands, and at other times creating barriers that had to be overcome. The chairs were often moved perfunctorily as if both hassle and essential, a metaphor, perhaps, for our ever-present societal barriers.
The phrase work, perhaps unlike the provocative topic, felt comfortable and enjoyable to watch as a viewer. Large, expansive and athletic movement highlighted the seven dancers’ technical skill and dynamism flowing and exhibiting graceful strength. The movement, while embracing space, was at times constricted as seen through tension and binding movements of the limbs, a powerful way to create the felt sense of not being seen or not being allowed to take up space. The use of spiraling upper bodies was not only beautiful to watch, but conveyed the complexity of the material and a sense of multidimensionality necessary to these topics. While flowing, the movement also expressed a sense of urgency supported by the music, which felt dark and anticipatory for the majority of the piece. The movement and music shifted toward the end with a rhythmic piece bringing freedom and a newfound buoyancy to the movement – and a sense that the same qualities had been discovered within the dancers themselves.
A nuanced but compelling aspect of the piece was how relationships or lack thereof were communicated among the dancers. From the beginning the dancers appeared isolated in their own islands, each on their chair, dancing a phrase of similar vocabulary, save two who sat directly across from one another holding one another’s gaze. This beginning tableau piqued my curiosity in how relationships would form throughout. Within the duets and trios there were moments of touch: hands on backs, shared weight, body parts reaching for one another but not fully touching. The connection between dancers suggested physical support more than emotional: the viewer never felt the satisfaction of embrace or full connection between movers. Rather, the repeated almost-connections served to elicit a sense of solidarity and awareness of one another within the individual experiences – both in the well-executed cannons and the repeated witnessing of one another’s movement from the borders of the stage.
For me, the most powerful segment was toward the end, when the personal experiences of three company dancers were highlighted and explored. As they danced around their chairs, now in center stage, the audience hears through the dancers’ own recorded voices, three unique experiences of being treated as “other.” The remainder of the company (who appear white and female identifying) sit on one side of the stage: witnessing, listening — a potent reminder of an essential role that is often overlooked.
The piece ends with a gestural sequence and striking image in which for the first time all the dancers are standing on top of their chairs now placed in a long row across the length of the stage. The image conveys resistance and solidarity, despite the isolation of the experiences just heard and witnessed. The audience is left not with hopelessness, but with embodied resolve and beauty, both of which feel acutely needed to move through — and engage in — our current time and world.
Eva Glaser Eva is a dance/movement psychotherapist working with young children and families. Eva believes in the healing and transformative power of the arts, particularly dance, in their capacity to invite us to connect to our feelings and engage in our worlds. And bring joy! Eva serves as an Ambassador on Presenting Denver’s Events Committee and as a Commentary Corner writer.