Dance: A Brief History of What the Bleep

They say writing about music is like dancing about architecture. Futile. And yet, these days we've had music about architecture and now dance about physics. Liz Lerman's The Matter of Origins takes on the big questions, taking inspiration from the physicists at the bleeding edge of matter, such as the ones working at CERN.

These are big questions, and the answers are even bigger. Even if science determines that we're living in a hologram, it will take us lay-folk a couple generations to understand what that means.

That's the beauty of art; it can help us perceive what science tells us to think.

But Lerman doesn't limit herself to science--or even just contemporary science. She not only documents and processes what we know today, she includes the origins of our contemporary knowledge, including: creation stories in Hebrew, the story of a woman serving tea to Dr. Oppenheimer while he built the Bomb, and Marie Curie keeping vials of radium on her nightstand.

It's not just dance about physics but about the unhappy marriage between physics and religion.

It's a catch 22: it was precisely this ambition and everythingness that drew me in, but it was doomed, predestined, to prove unwieldy. But too much is better than too little. Minimalists and other austere genres have fewer places to hide and their work will either resonate or not, love it or leave it.

In the onslaught of vignettes, there's something for everyone.

And there was a little bit of everyone on stage. The diverse crew of dancers included young and old, various races, dancers and non-dancers.

Turns out, this is part of Lerman's shtick: using non-dancers, even amputees, in her choreography. In the abstract, I'm all about this idea. People are movers and have different bodies. Using exclusively trained dancers, it would be like listening to a string quartet: everyone equally able and passing ideas back and forth almost with anonymity. With a diverse group of athletic abilities, she can't ask everyone to do everything: some are more able than others. But in the few moments where everyone is doing the same move, it highlights the diversity. And, like diversity itself, it's a double-edged sword, providing an interesting albeit dissonant sight. Also,

Ultimately, it's almost impossible to get a dancer to move like a normal person, and it's impossible to get a non-dancer to move with the confident precision and grace of a dancer. But if you were asking a non-musician to play some music on stage, you wouldn't give them a string instrument to play--maybe a drum or something.

Then, the second half.

The audience traipsed upstairs to the MCA's main lobby and awkwardly stood around the perimeter as dancers performed in and around. Finally, we were allowed to sit and the tea-time discussions began.

Taking a cue from the tea woman from Los Alamos, we drank tea and ate cakes while "provocateurs", one per table, led discussions.

A great forum for extroverts, the tea room experience was not nearly as awkward or unpleasant as you could imagine. The audience at Chicago Humanities events is self-selecting and kept the inane comments to a minimum (although off-topic-ness was inevitable). I resisted the urge to give spirit fingers and even chimed in.

The music, by Darron L West, was professional and polished, at times a little too slick, like I was watching a PBS special with a lot of time-lapse footage. But then there was some decently edgy acid-dub electronica and some romanticized minimalist tracks. Again, a wide range of diversity.

I didn't necessarily go for the dance but for the science. Which stayed primarily in the cosmic background radiation, coming to the fore here and there, acting as a foundation for interpretation in dance.

The best performance of the evening may go to Dr. Eric Landhal, a Physics prof at DePaul. Not only did he sprinkle some mind bombs in the second half but was also asked to dance, which he did with an incredible lack of self-consciousness.

Too big to fail [completely]. I'm glad I went. Not Unrecommended. Repeats 11/12/11 and 11/13/11.

Filed under: dance

Leave a comment