What am I seeing? Do I like what I’m seeing? What are the performers doing? What are they wearing? How are they lit? What emotions are being evoked in me? What formations, positions, and configurations are the performers moving through? Are they difficult? Are they pleasing? Am I enjoying watching the performers? Which performers stick out to me? Am I entertained? Do I want to see more? Do I want this to be over? What are my expectations? Are they being met? What is the point of this performance? What is trying to be achieved?
In the plethora of contemporary dance, dance-theater, and performance art being created in the Bay Area, I often sit through shows of abstract movement-based work asking myself the above questions to varying degrees. This line of questioning feels very cerebral and detached to me, often to the point where what happens on stage begins to feel irrelevant in any context outside of dance. But one piece of the many I’ve seen this past month felt like the antidote to this noncontextual barrage: Deep Waters Dance Theater’s Our Daily Bread, presented at CounterPULSE April 14-24. This show felt communal, tangible, and meaningful beyond a dance context.
Our Daily Bread was about food and the roles it plays in our communities. As each audience member entered the theater our hands were washed and dried by a performer. We were fed ginger, instructed to feed our neighbor angel food cake, and served split pea soup as well. Aside from the culinary perks of sitting in the audience, I also enjoyed that there was nothing esoteric about the show. It was simply about food and community; a celebration of culture and also a somber testament to our histories.
I appreciated the specificity: food. I became passionate about food a few years ago after being introduced to Michael Pollan’s writings. Food inextricably links people with each other, with the earth, and with our histories multiple times every day. It’s incredible. And for awhile during Our Daily Bread the usual litany of questions dropped from my head and was replaced by thoughts of camaraderie, satiation, celebration, tradition, toil, labor, fruit, and replenishment.
While I appreciate performance that challenges me to think in unconventional ways, I don’t think a prerequisite for unconventional thinking is abstraction. Our Daily Bread challenged my understanding of how food, dance, and our bodies are interrelated through completely tangible means. But more important than how I was challenged to think is how I thoroughly enjoyed myself, which I hope is the point of most performance anyway.