Posted by: willconley1025 | November 30, 2021

Review: Transpire (11/13)

On November 13th, I attended Transpire, a collaborative dance concert choreographed by Mount Holyoke and Amherst faculty. It was the first live dance performance that I had attended since the beginning of the pandemic, and I was acutely aware of the experience of being an observer, which is interesting to think about in the context of visual culture. I am a theatre major and took dance lessons for a long time as a child, so I am very familiar with the experience of being in or watching a performance. Being watched and watching others in the context of dance and theatre has been a part of my life for a long time, and has never felt particularly unnatural to me. After a year and a half, however, the experience of watching people onstage felt foreign and unusually intimate, and I felt, in some ways, as though I was intruding on something private, even though the performance was explicitly meant to be viewed by an audience.

There were five pieces in the show, all distinct from each other and utilizing different styles of dance. The first piece was high-energy and exuberant, and involved direct interaction with the audience, with the dancers coming to the front of the stage and encouraging the audience to clap along to the music. While the other pieces were different from the first, this set the tone for the evening by establishing a link between the dancers and the audience. Despite the strange feeling of intrusion that came with seeing a live performance for the first time in a while, this routine made it clear that the audience members were not being viewed merely as outside observers.

Another routine that I found interesting was one that depicted the process of a caterpillar hatching into a butterfly. There were several different ways in which the meaning of the piece was made clear: first, several of the dancers were wearing strange restrictive garments that represented cocoons, which they “hatched” out of partway through the piece. Additionally, throughout most of the piece, someone was standing onstage speaking into a microphone about rebirth and renewal. Finally, at the end of the piece, a screen behind the dancers showed a video of a butterfly hatching out of a cocoon. At first, I thought the piece was a bit too heavy-handed, but as I thought more about it, I found that I appreciated the heavy emphasis on visuality and the way it was combined with verbal storytelling. Repeatedly emphasizing the theme of rebirth was a deliberate choice, and perhaps not one that I would have made, but I thought it worked nonetheless.

One of my favorite pieces in the show was the last, which was called “Batty Moves” and was choreographed by dancer and choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Before the piece was performed, a video was played that showed Zollar talking about the background behind it. “Batty,” she explained, is a word meaning “backside,” and she created the piece as a celebration of all body types, particularly those that are often mocked, ignored, or either desexualized or oversexualized. I enjoyed learning about the context, and I also greatly enjoyed the routine itself. Because it focused on the backside, the dancers largely faced away from the audience, but I still felt connected to them despite rarely being able to see their faces. There was a certain level of discomfort at first—this piece, even more than the rest, made me feel as though I was intruding on something very intimate. However, it didn’t take me long to be swept up in the joyful energy of the piece, and I began to feel as though I was celebrating with the dancers rather than observing them from the outside.

Even though seeing a performance was somewhat of a strange experience after such a long time, I really enjoyed Transpire and thought it was an excellent reintroduction to watching live dance. The choreographers and dancers were all immensely skilled, and the pieces made me think a lot about the concept of visuality in the context of performance.

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