The temporal, fragile, and exacting nature of performance, but of dance specifically, extends to the viewer a kind of ascetic and athletic virtue that is removed from linear time. Or at least that is the feeling created by the recent performances of Rebecca Levy, Tiffany Fish, and Katie McCaughan's dance company, Jacksonville Dance Theatre.
Presented at the Munnerlyn Center for Worship and Fine Arts on the campus of the Episcopal School of Jacksonville on the evening of May 30, the company’s third annual concert was moving and varied. Transitioning between quiet and still works that carried an air of sanctity, to pieces like Thirst that thrummed with energy and vibrancy, the entire experience was one that reinforced the extraordinary nature of dance. It featured group works that sublimated the personal to an overarching form, and it also showed the power of one or two dancers works in unison and opposition.
Watching the duet, Finding an Opening was like bearing witness to private, sacred acts that somehow in their beauty affirm the very world itself. This work specifically, and The place of the end not imagined (which followed it), felt as if they occupy the spot in the world once held by sacred mysteries enacted with solemn ritual to ensure the continuity of the universe. As Opening began, a cloud hovered near the ceiling of the stage, and as it slowly dissipated, unwinding like a thread made of dandelion fuzz, two figures unfolded from the far (left) side of the stage. They moved through a series of motions that were at once playful and loaded, all of gravity and the essence of light. Watching it gave rise to the thought that if music is universal, and visual art and life intersect with life, then is dance not that sacred thing that can transmute into quiet or raucous spaces/stories and be made luminous flesh.
Levy, Fish, and McCaughan are all engaged in the Jacksonville dance community through teaching and choreographing, and this important work helps to raise the visibility of an art that can, at times, in this place, seem fugitive. Seeing artists who fuse technical knowledge to the surprising and transcendent, is a lesson about dedication and focus, about how to be in art.
At the beginning of the night, McCaughan stepped on stage to talk about the ability of contemporary dance to utilize “false starts and false endings.” She then went on to stress the idea that in dance “there is nothing to ‘get,’ it is a live art and about the experience.” Indeed, that notion of experience wed to starts and stops in the wrong places is most satisfyingly deployed in the final, ensemble work Instrument, Object which was created with professional and student dancers. The result, a work that incorporated dialogue that recalled call and response, had a few gestures towards classical ballet and also small movements that reinforce the precariousness of dance itself, and a refusal to give expected answers.
By now, this short essay may have digressed too far into an interior dialogue. However, the overarching intent is to attempt to find those lightning words to describe the feeling of privilege in being able to see these performers at work, and, to know that these artists are here in Jacksonville. It is a hopeful feeling that is actually a call for a closer look at Jacksonville dance, here and now. To follow the JDT, visit jacksonvilledancetheatre.org.