On Saturday, September 7, 2019, six female dancers and choreographers from across the country—Denver, Houston, Miami, and New York—came together in a “cross-country curation of minds and movement” for the second annual Perspective Exchange. A night of powerful and electrifying dance, the performances grappled with such timely and disparate events as sexism, memory, mass shootings, the male gaze, and the complexity of relationships. I could dedicate an entire review to each of the eight stellar performances, so strong were the individual voices, movement, and artistry. Instead, I’ll approach the program holistically.
The program inherently asks, “What’s important to female artists today?” The answers are as diverse and wide-ranging as female artists themselves. At times intimately personal and others tackling hot-button issues of racism and global violence, Perspective Exchange grapples with both the subtle and overt emotional, intellectual, and societal challenges people face day in and day out. “Bare/Face,” choreographed and performed by Anna Claire Brunelli and Ali Weeks, deftly uses mirroring between the two dancers to explore beauty standards. Choreographed and performed by Kimberly Chmielewski, “s t a r t i n g and s t o p p i n g,” as the accordion-like text of its title manifests, combines long, flowing movements with sudden surprises and variations in tempo and emotion to explore personal growth. Jacquelyn Boe’s “Is it You or Me?,” a mashup of grit and lyricism, confronts current events like the mass shootings in her home state of Texas as well as social media echo chambers.
The most striking aspect of the night remains the strength, bravery, and commitment of these artists. Jenny Gram, with “recal,” captivates the audience with her dedication to each movement, from the tips of her fingers to ends of her toes; it’s as if life itself is at stake. She engages every muscle in a harrowing performance about the past’s influence on the present. In Emily Jo Haenny’s “Your gaze hits the side of face,” a phrase borrowed from a Barbara Kruger artwork, she unabashedly explores sexuality, specifically heterosexual male desire. Her ever-changing use of subject/object as well as semi-masochistic movements creates a complicated narrative of voyeurism, implication, and power dynamics. In “Be Seen,” Brittany Reuss explores concepts of impermanence with a wabi sabi-like aesthetic. Her dramatic full-body curls, both convex and concave, her lilting cadences, and ability to collapse and reconfigure from moment to moment exude confidence and beauty.
Two hallmarks of great art remain nuance and complication. I’ve heard it said that great art asks more questions than it answers. The greatness lies in the viewer’s seemingly endless grappling. In order for an artist to pull this off, she must embody what poet John Keats called “negative capability,” the ability to hold two conflicting ideas simultaneously. Brunelli’s “ReKindle” has her primarily on the floor, moving within a large circle of light. At times it’s as if she can’t stay upright, while at others she addresses the audience with a queenly sense of self-mastery. Brunelli says the work addresses “a woman’s journey through darkness and loss of self and into the light of truth and power.” Chmielewski and Gram in “UpClose” present a simultaneously tender and brutal account of human relationships. Like watching magnets collide and be pulled apart, this work confronts dysfunction, co-dependence, and the Herculean pull of desire as Chmielewski and Gram slink their limbs across each other and entwine themselves in their private intimacy.
Perhaps more so than ever, our time is one of both/and versus either/or. False binaries must make way for a more inclusive concept of truth that eschews absolutes and easy answers in favor of hard-won reckoning. Artists like these six female choreographers and dancers must bravely lead the charge. Perspective Exchange beautifully explores what it means not only to be a woman but also a human being in the 21st century.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from Regis University and the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She currently sits on the board of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and was previously involved with CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared in DailyServing, Quaint Magazine, and Scintilla. She is currently at work on a collection of essays about family dynamics in addition to editing a newspaper/zine about happiness for Denver Theatre District’s Happy City project with U.K. artist Stuart Semple.