Issues of sensitivity and clarity hamper this dance program
Reviewed by Jonelle Seitz, Fri., March 9, 2012
Dark to LightAustinVentures StudioTheater,
Cheryl Chaddick's "The Hand of Man Before the Hand of God" was the third dance on her company's mixed program. In Saturday's performance, the dancers moved with energy, care, and devotion to the piece, a quite literal visualization of questioning faith in God. A program note explained that the piece was based on Chaddick's own questioning that began during an intensive 8th grade study of the Holocaust. But for me, preceding the dance with 10 minutes of video interviews with Holocaust survivors was an error.
Never mind that the aesthetic of the dance, with its flying hair and stretchy, wine-colored dresses, was outdated; never mind the heavenward addresses, some vocal, which support the argument that dance is best used to say things that can't be said with words. The largest issue was that "The Hand of Man," an exploration of a personal problem, was juxtaposed with the interviews in such a way that suggested that Chaddick had appropriated the evidence of Holocaust experiences – terrible in themselves and representative of an insurmountable magnitude of blackness and suffering – as a springboard for her dance, which wasn't groundbreaking.
I felt a strong urge to leave after the interviews, to allow humane space to follow them rather than more little dances that would no doubt seem trite in their shadow. I did not leave, and my expectations were realized. Call me oversensitive, but it seems to me that if you could engage with the rest of the program after watching the interviews, you are perhaps desensitized in a frightening way.
In "Landmark," Chaddick wore a Snuggie (the wearable blanket) and ruminated, in a nondance monologue, about having reached middle age. Though she was funny, the real problem that Chaddick's character railed against wasn't clear. Was it her feeling of being marginalized? By whom? Was it that she felt no longer relevant? If so, perhaps that was because she spent her time lounging on an oversized chair with copies of More and O, The Oprah Magazine and having the occasional tantrum. Though Chaddick's dances often include text, her choice to confront this topic through a straight-up monologue rather than through dance seemed a method of avoidance.
In "Driftwood," which preceded the interviews, choreographers Katherine Hodges and Maia McCoy were partners at the mercy of the ocean's relentless force. This dance was lovely and intelligent, but it seemed out of place on this program.