One of my primary introductions to the Arts, and more specifically the Performing Arts, was through the little-known genre of Modern Dance called “Site-Specific Dance-Poetry Fusion.” I have been taken with this unique blend of spoken and written words and dance since I was a child, and have done much reading about it, including the seminal works Poetry, and also Dance by Klaus Fuchten and Movement through Word in a Particular Place by the legendary Mary Timrock. Consequently, I approached Silas Riener’s senior thesis show “Fugue State: The Idea, a Site-Specific Senior Thesis in Dance and Poetry” with much technical and critical expertise.
Oh god, I’m lying! I don’t know anything about Site-Specific Dance-Poetry Fusion. And those books, I made them up! But Silas’s show was damn good, and I will do my best to tell you why.
I’ve always loved dance as a celebration of the present. More so even than the theater, dance is solely relevant to and expressive of the moment at which it occurs. The specific tension of the performer’s muscle, his expression of the face, the relation of foot to ankle and even, by extension, the contraction of the aorta and the flow of blood throughout the body, all come together in glorious testament to existing here and now. Dance feels, for this reason, to be a primal, or at least primary, mode of expression, and it incorporates the gaze of the audience as if it were a partner in the performance. Including space, then, removing the performance from the constrictions of the stage and embracing the specific architecture of the surrounding, only heightens this sense of testament and the urgency of participation on the part of the audience.
Silas’s work is very much about inspiration, about the vicissitudes of emotion, of dependence, of logic and labor and love that make the substance of thinking, of having an idea. The dancers in these pieces, spinning and collapsing and prostrating themselves in the Chancellor Green Library, enter and exit each other’s orbit, gather each other’s momentum and spin, at times seemingly out of control, into unique expressions of energy. Motifs of movement establish themselves, pulsate briefly and brilliantly and then fade back, leaving only their shadows in the new movements that arise. In the first dance, words and verses from a poem are written across the dancer’s costumes, and the effect is quite breathtaking. As they dance, the audience – most of us high above them – tries to read the words, and in so doing pay close attention to the specific movements of each part of the dancer’s body. I myself found the splendid word “peppermilk,” written on a dancer’s hip, and watched it spin and turn and fall and rise, saw it press against the words “stony necks,” written across another dancer’s back and interact with the hundred other words written across the dancers. At certain splendid moments the dancers would crane their necks and arch their backs to read each other, as pieces of text trying to comprehend itself in order to find a greater unity, to rest in peace with each other. Ripples would pass through the dancers, attempts to organize the mass of words, and for a moment they would almost reach a pose of stasis before breaking apart and spinning away.
Some of the words are better than others, which feels appropriate. For every “peppermilk” there is also a “high-class hooker,” and the disparity of phrase seems appropriate to a poem that features “crumbling” and “elbows.” The artistic process is nothing if not an awkward one, and it is the vision of beauty within the awkward strivings of the artist that makes Silas’s piece so captivating.
Also captivating, it should be noted are the dancers themselves. Every performance was breathtaking, but Kristen Arnold and Silas simply blew my mind. During their duet, they evoked the painful awareness of dependence in love so earnestly that at times it was almost difficult to watch. When they rotate back to back, with their heads on each others shoulders, and she leans forward and bears him, prostrate on her back in the dead center of the Library, I was thankful that this particular movement had occurred in this particular location at some point in the history of existence. And I think that is what site-specific dance/poetry is all about.
At one point in the middle of the show Silas reads the poem that we have seen written across the dancers. The presentation of the words being spoken, after witnessing its genesis in dance, illustrates powerfully the impotence of printed words in signifying the tumult of inspiration. To truly understand the chaos of expression one needs an art form that glorifies the present. Silas’s piece does just this, and his poem ends appropriately with the line: “Now, you are here.”