because the personal is cultural
Clap for the Wolfman, photo by Corrine Furman
Imagine you’re a wolfman. At night, you’re traveling with a pack of wolves. Then, as soon as day breaks, they end up surrounding you. No longer one of their own, you have suddenly gone from friend to prey. Their teeth could pierce through your skin just as easily as you could pierce through a body made of balloons.
Things can shift just as quickly in Clap for the Wolfman, a dance show by Shannon Gillen that the New York choreographer is presenting at the Fringe. Like night becomes day, the relationship between the five women performing can switch on a dime. Friendly one moment, they can be cold and even threatening the next.
A woman with a long braid gets down to a two-piece black spandex suit that displays her athletic body in movement. Behind her, a life-size skeleton made of balloons imitates her. Two women sitting on the edge of the stage use microphones to create amplified sounds of the dancer’s moving body as they imagine them, turning the micro intro macro. The body is fragmented by the space between balloons, parts rather than whole.
However, it is in partner work that Gillen excels. In duets, her dancers often become intertwined, forcing her to find creative solutions to the progression of their movement.
In a playful section, performers pass a microphone around and, holding different positions, articulate their body into words. Her palm open and arm straight in front of her, a woman says, “This is me dancing in the 80s. This is me showing my wedding ring. This is me when I’m surrounded by wolves.” This exercise demands from the performers an awareness of their body in its present state at the same time as they must recall a body memory that overlaps it. They must consciously observe through their body how it organizes itself in relation to different external elements.
Things don’t appear as light-hearted when a dancer hits planks of woods together. The lack of clear motivations behind her actions makes them look so senseless as to be menacing.
The lighting might be the element that speaks the most to Gillen’s talents. Often, a single spot is used to light the entire stage from the front, so that the dancers’ monster shadows become a sinister backdrop. There is a tableau during which a performer holds the spot in her lap and shakes her unzipped hoodie on both sides of the light, making the shadows flicker like a stroboscopic television left on at night. I say that such details speak of Gillen’s talents because it reflects the choreographer’s ability to do a lot with little. Clap for the Wolfman is full of ingenious finds, from its use of light and sound to its choreography.
Clap for the Wolfman
June 15 at 10pm; June 17 at 6:45pm; June 18 at 8:45pm; June 19 at 3:15pm
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com