Friday, February 22, 2013

Jennifer Monson, Bird Gerhl

Benjamin Norman for The New York Times
I saw Jennifer Monson at The Kitchen last night perform her "Live Dancing Archive". Rather, I should say; We watched her. We heard her. We, the audience, experienced the sublime angles of her beautiful - at times brutal - angles of her intense physicality. 

Dance is the only art that is rooted in the body, movement being at its core. Whether preplanned or improvised, a dancer does more than 'move'. With each move, there are layers upon layers of meaning, heaped on, in, and around that motion is space. A conglomerate of notion, implication, embodiment, invitation, invocation, Contemporary Dance reminds us that we are alive, living, breathing, sentient, continuously unfolding, searching for meaning and understanding, for (dare I say) a "meaningful" connection to ourselves, to each other, to one another. 

Dance is the one art that brings us back to the fact that while there might be 'intention' on the part of the Artist/Dancer, that 'intent' is always open to our interpretation. And, while a dancer might appear to be still on stage, our minds move around her. Dance is the one art that reminds us that there is no such thing as 'meaning', there is only motion.  

Monson's performance hinges on one question: What does it 'mean', to be a 'Bird'? To embody beauty but live in fear, to be stripped to the core by the sound of a roaring engine; to be at the mercy of live wires, extreme, excruciating frequencies, cataclysmic winds, infiltrated by toxins, covered in crude. A bird is fragility, freedom, fear, flight. A bird is prey, preyed upon, at the mercy of the  environment, exposed to the elements. A bird is a flinching, fertile, being, forgotten in the night.

While the word 'Bird' might be defined as:

"any warm-blooded vertebrate of the class Aves, having a body covered with feathers, forelimbs modified into wings, scaly legs, a beak, and no teeth, and bearing young in a hard-shelled egg"
to be sure, a Bird is more than the sum of those words.
During Monson's full-hour immensely fleshy performance, not a flash, click or ring of cell phone punctuated the performance. Barely a cough or sneeze. We were there to be enlightened, enticed, entranced, intrigued, energized, illuminated, subsumed. One thing was clear, in the age where 'American Idol' and 'So You Think You Can Dance' have equated Dancers and Musicians with Entertainers, I'd wager to bet, no one attending Monson's performance was there to be entertained.

Mid-way through, Monson dons a blonde wig and bright lipstick, and sways to 'Bird Gerhl' by Antony and the Johnsons, reminding us, once again, of that inextricable connection we have with each other, as artists, as audience. Hers is a singular dance, one that we — watching her, BE-ing her — without question, understand the meaning' of.

Monson goes far beyond emulating a bird or evoking 'Bird-ness'. Stripped down to her own impenetrable core, as far and as deep as she can physically and philosophically go, she reminds us - beautifully, brutally - of that invisible, essential, primal connection: empathy.

What has always made Contemporary Dance unique in the (Art) world, is that it eschews the gratuitous spotlight. It prefers, rather, to lurk in the shadows, and linger in the margins by nature, oblique in its angles, and happy to be so.


Link to Jennifer Monson @ Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Art Nature and Dance

Link to blog created for my SVA lecture: Degrees of Freedom, Gravity & Spontaneous Sculptures @ SVA for Suzanne Anker's Digital Sculpture class

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