All Bodies Dance
Different shapes move Johnson/Long's 'I Stuck My Head in the Garden'
They stand there wearing girdles, those strapping devices designed to erase our lumps and bulges, the embarrassing humanness of our bodies. Three female and two male dancers, some in bras and some in undershirts, each of their bodies different, shorter or sturdier or slighter than the next. And it's hard not to stare, really -- a fold in the tummy, a tattoo, a vein that runs along the calf. Sure, grocery store glossies show us yards more skin -- dewy navels and taut inner thighs and nipples covered in caviar -- but in the age of airbrush, it's rare to see bodies, real bodies, thus exposed.
It will take a while to let go of all this. Hard not to gawk, hard not to compare, or cringe, or look away embarrassed as the dancers stand there, their eyes fixed in the distance. At a discussion following this preview showing, an audience member will sum up his thoughts during the first moments like this: "These people are prancing around in their underwear!"
But that shock won't last for long. The opening section is such a flurry of movement -- fists pounding the air, bodies thrusting, colliding, rolling across the floor -- that the dance seizes the attention. The latest production from Johnson/Long Dance Company, I Stuck My Head in the Garden is a 65-minute topsy-turvy of boys and girls in all their confusing combinations, in domination and submission, in anger and attraction. A sexual roundelay of sorts, choreographed with trademark visual flair (although absent the company's trademark supplementary text) by founding members Andrew Long and Darla Johnson, joined by dancers Julie Tietz, Nicole Wesley, and Rudolfo Villela. The production, which premieres this weekend at the McCullough Theatre and will tour to Hamburg, Germany, in the fall, is rich and varied; the costumes are a mere sliver of the experience.
However, not everyone appreciates those girdles. "I find them distracting," one audience member complains after the preview. "They don't match, for one thing."
Darla Johnson defends her choice. "All of our bodies are different," she says, "so it made sense that the costumes would be different." The woman isn't convinced. She was preoccupied with the nakedness; she couldn't concentrate on the movement. But for the dancemakers, causing the audience to bristle and shift is part of the point.
"I want the audience to love it and hate it and love it and hate it," Andrew Long says to her, "because who doesn't go through that with their own bodies?"
"Everyone is a dancer, and all bodies dance," says Johnson. With that, she has delivered the company's motto of sorts. For over a decade now, the Johnson/Long Dance Company has been dedicated to smashing the notion that dance belongs to the tall, the thin, and the flat-chested.
"I can't tell you how many stories I've heard of people in our company whose teachers told them they're too fat to dance," Long says later during a phone interview.
Johnson adds, "If you look at dance around the world and through the centuries, people were dancers and they danced to express things. They danced at celebrations. They danced at funerals. This notion that only a certain kind of person can be a dancer is ..." She searches for the right word.
I Stuck My Head in the Garden will be performed Jan. 24 and 25, 8pm, at the McCullough Theatre. Call 467-0704 for info.