A thick scattering of papers describes a wide oval on the stage at the Dairy Center for the Arts on the evening of April 24, 2015. Every one of these “letters” is a truth– or an untruth– an individual moment or experience. Through a series of workshops and a lot of frank and confidential sharing, the Schiff Dance Collective was able to gather a wide, highly personal (and sometimes devastating) kind of self-portrait of our community. Folks aged twelve through sixty-eight contributed their stories. This spectrum includes youth in addiction recovery.
Jenny Schiff, Artistic Director, has stated that the Collective “is for everyone,” and its seriously local mindset really puts a point on that. It may seem a paradox that a generally open group has a specific focus, but it’s actually quite smart and realistic. The (necessarily) first stop on the tolerance train is one’s local community. The fact that there is a place for all passionate parties within the group (classes, volunteering, student opportunities and more) within the community doesn’t exclude the larger world. It sets a brilliant example.
The intense (and this is saying something, since the level of physical, emotional, and temporal devotion required of all career dancers would be considered extreme by many, if they knew) commitment exhibited by the dancers is why this example works. Dancer commitment has been a constant in every performance this reviewer has admired, and that of the Schiff Dance Collective shines. It is also a pleasure to see individuality valued by a dance company. The choreography of two pieces in particular allowed individual dancers to emote in a solo capacity in a (still) supportive corps environment.
This dynamic was most effective for me in circumstances when all dancers made the same movements in a cascade that was then echoed, for emphasis, by individuals. There was a fluid sense of people who have learned to move and work together, such that the “crack-the-whip” hand-offs in one part appeared easy and seamless. The duet between Melissa Rumsey and Allison Blakeney had a visceral power that had a lot to do with kindness, acceptance, and support.
When the dancers made sure to pick up every one of the papers and then dropped their sheaves with a slap, I was struck by the symbolism. With this performance, tremendous effort is being made to give voice to all the stories represented by these papers, and the dancers’ attention shows that. At the same time, these are stories that may be largely or wholly unrecognized otherwise. This fact is shown by the apparent disregard with which the papers are discarded.
One piece seemed to describe some of the experience of dealing with addiction and recovery. How strange that these places– recovery especially– are so dark and full, yet feel so empty and pointless at the same time. Within the music, I heard the phrase “taking the edge off.” This is an excellent description of the trap of addiction; imagine nibbling the edge of a cookie in order to perfect its roundness. No sooner have you smoothed one edge than another becomes glaringly irregular, and the cycle continues.
The company really pulled out the stops on the final piece, executing almost frenzied movements. I thought of the intensity of living, of struggle, and the brave vulnerability required to confess, share, and witness that intensity. At several points in the performance, papers were shaken vigorously, as if they were being helped to fly. In a very real way, that is exactly what the Schiff Dance Collective has accomplished with this strong and rawly beautiful work.
Jane E. Werle: With artwork and writing published by Bombay Gin, Hot Whiskey Press, Wyrd Tree Press, Summer Stock, and her own imprint, Thirsty Lizard Books, Jane is a passionate proponent of creativity, self-expression, and the pursuit of elusive and meaningful beauty. A poet, educator, and longtime nanny, she works and explores with kids, challenging young minds and safeguarding young hearts. Jane graduated with an MFA in Writing and Poetics from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and has come up with no compelling reason since to move away from the lively Denver area and its admirably self-made cultural opportunities. Contact Jane with editing needs, parenting problems, and extravagant travel writing proposals.