I don’t know why it has taken the modern dance form so long to take up the older body as a worthy subject of inquiry. Visual art has for centuries found aging physicality to be a topic of fascination. Less visual forms like poetry and drama have always delved into mortality, time passing, the aging process. What would Shakespeare be without his Lear? The evolution of a body growing older is a universal human experience, and in traditional societies people danced until they could no longer move—usually quite close to death. Perhaps modern dance made a deal with the devil of our American youth obsessed culture and did not notice that the older bodies became invisible. Judson Church made all manner of movement suitable for the concert stage, but apparently only if performed by young sexy humans. But concert dance for the audience is predominantly a visual art form that takes place over time, and as the audience ages, it is becoming far more interesting to them to see people like themselves on stage. And so Michelle Kranicke has created the aMID Festival, a curated series of evenings featuring “ the underserved performative body of the experienced artist” aka old people dancing. And not just any old people: in an art form where the art is the person body and soul, this festival is living history. And these choreographers, thought leaders, master artists, were not content to revisit old themes in their new aging bodies—no for the most part they are clearing the slate and starting over, exploring, testing, trying. They are not afraid to fail.
The evening begins with seminal dance figure Deborah Hay, who alone came out with no younger dancers. She calls the piece my choreographed body. She is not afraid for us to see her elderly figure without the counterpoint of a younger dancer. She scatters us viewers about the room—and indeed lists us in the program as part of the piece. We sit in what is normally the area called Stage where ordinarily only the professional dancers would be placed. She talks to us. She wears adorable slippers that make house slipper like sounds on the polished wood floor. She moves among us and we are able to observe her skin, her figure, up close as if she were a sculpture. She tilts, makes gestures, vocalizes. There is breath. We are so close. Watching where she goes carefully. She comes to no conclusions, but she moves among us, and we shall go the way of her body, literally and figuratively, as they shift the chairs for the next piece.
The next work, by Kranicke, is a meditative work that evolves in Eiko and Koma like time. Young dancers Sabrina Baranda and Molly Strom are upended white tripods as Kranicke unspools a white roll of paper in silence. Called The Body in Relation to Object it is a sparse quiet piece: a sculpture. It is an exploration of how simply one can solve a problem, and as a sculpture that shifts with time, our eyes have plenty of time to compare the elder to the younger.
The comparison of older/younger is quite brazen in the third piece of the evening: zulpez, by Chicago legend Bob Eisen, one of the founders of the original Links Hall. Bob Eisen and Kevin Fay are tall lanky linear dancers. The contrast between youth and age is unavoidable and somewhat uncomfortable because it is so full frontal. And yet, there is a humor here, a sweet self-deprecating joke—as though they are telling us, life is so hard, and then you are old but you keep moving, stumbling over that foot, repeating that leg swinging theme, going out the door and coming back. Because both men repeat the same sequence you are able to literally compare and contrast. What looks wacky on Fay borderlines dementia on Eisen. And what does that say about the human condition?
The evening concludes with the wise belly laugh of BOOM! Co created by Cynthia Oliver and Leslie Cuyjet who come off as mother daughter—or perhaps the older/younger mirror of a single self. There is less divergence in the physicality of the two women as there has been in the previous works, and this piece includes more of what we might call “technique” so while their text comments on the aging process we do not see as much evidence of it here. I would be curious to see this dance with two older women. There is something of an artificial construct in this context to have one young and one older as they dance in perfect unison. It is a fun finale to a thoughtful evening. I am hoping this fest opens the door to seeing a lot more mixed age dances.