Cousins, Critically: The Mississippi/Volga V Dance Festival

Today I am joined by two cousins to discuss The Mississippi/Volga V Dance Festival which we all attended at the Tek Box on July 19. The two cousins which will join me are Aweful Writing contributor, M. Liam Moore, and first time Aweful Writer/Dance enthusiast who will be known as simply, Someone Else. We hope to dissect the festival in a thoughtful and critical manner in what we call “Cousins, Critically.”

The End… Or The Beginning?

Someone Else: What we saw of The End seemed to be much the same as The Beginning. The Middle, of course, was where the development actually happened. When He, with his back turned against the audience, jived his whole body in not-so-syncopation, with Her voice on the microphone crooning about that big ol’ blue moon.

When Their bodies wound up entwined and They resolved to move forward separately, but going the same way, I felt small depth to their movement. The dancers were trained and their movement convicted but the noiseless repetitiveness did little for the first act.

The second act, what with its tumbling colorful bodies running circles around each other, was disparate. The same sweeping motions between the floor and standing, between positive and negative space around each other, gave structure to the dance and presented contact improve in the most live form I have seen to date. Musings, scratches and rolling vocals on the microphone paired with the electric guitar wails did not contradict the movement, but instead added sound to what appeared to be an anxious piece.

Committed to not let time pass before taking myself to the edge and back again. It seems I could learn a few things from J.T.’s sense of adventure.

J.T. Moore: Someone Else, what you call my sense of adventure, I call happenstance. I just randomly stumbled upon the Mississippi/Volga V Dance Festival in a City Pages listing on events for the weekend. The fact that I “stumbled” upon this event seems rightly so.

Yes there was lots of stumbling at the Volga, whether it was the movement of the performers, or the manner in which I behaved myself. Instead of acting like a polite and respectful audience member, I failed to contain my emotions about the performance, for better or for worse. There were points at which laughter seemed acceptable (ranging from sweeping to snoring), at which point I readily engaged, but there were moments of “seriousness” which I found delightful. I guess this is an important learning experience for me as an audience member, or just as a developing avant-garde european dance enthusiast.

In truth, where I may have mixed emotions about the performance, I loved the experience. Whether it was watching other audience members react to the performances, seeing a call and response thrust pit, or just reacting to it myself, I was quite delighted with what Volga had to offer. I may not know what The End means, or where The Beginning starts, but there is one thing I do know: european avant-garde dance festivals are weirdly awesome.

M. Liam Moore: How is an audience member expected to act during performances of avant-garde dance? When a studio-trained dancer gyrates like one of those floppy, inflatable tube men you see outside car dealerships (AirDancers?), does he expect viewers will quietly scratch their heads in wonderment? When a fellow dancer smothers him with her prone body and feigns sleep, are we to admire their lines and ponder the social statement?

No, laughter strikes me as entirely acceptable at performances like these. In fact, I’d say it’s exactly the kind of audience reaction sorely missing from the MissiVolgaV. When I hear “avant-garde,” I expect art that is unconventional, maybe even subversive – certainly not art tailored to a passive audience. So why were we all sitting there as though the substitute biology teacher had just popped an episode of “Nova” into the VCR?

Plenty of performers feed off audience reaction. Why wouldn’t avant-garde dancers be among them? I’m not sure this forgives J.T. for snickering through the performance as though someone had fluffed in church, or as though the underpants of one of the dancers were visible (!). But I do think a more engaged audience – a looser atmosphere – would have helped me stomach some of the show’s more solemn moments, which in the first piece, particularly, too often rubbed off as breathlessly delivered emotional abstractions.

As for that second piece, the delightfully improvised “Limericks” was by far the more visually stimulating, but I’ve got one nitpick. A limerick is a five-line, rhyming poem with a very specific meter. Limericks are humorous and sometimes bawdy in subject matter. “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly” is a nursery rhyme. “There once was a woman from Exeter / And all the men there craned their necks at ‘er / One day to be rude / She reclined in the nude /” … and the last line, let’s just say, rhymes with Exeter. That’s a limerick. And that’s a dance I’ll be back to see.

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