Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Art of Wandering

Dandelion Dancetheater and AXIS Dance Company recently teamed up to present The Dislocation Express on and near BART this past July 24, 27, 29, and 30. They dressed as gypsies, a wandering tribe of dancers. The title itself evokes a sense of nomadism; dislocation is out of place, and express is a fast way to get there. The piece began in front of the Ed Roberts Campus at Ashby BART and progressed to either the Walnut Creek BART station or the Powell Street BART station depending on the evening. Combining dance, theater, voice, and music, the piece altered between audience participation, civil disruption, and good old site-specific dance.

In contemporary culture the term “gypsy” connotes a whole assortment of interesting and not necessarily accurate stereotypes. From romanticized fortune-tellers bedecked in bells, to charlatans and swindlers unwilling to integrate into society, perhaps the most pervasive cliché about gypsies is that they are wanderers, people intentionally always on the move. What does it really mean to have nowhere to go? To choose to have nowhere to go?

I found it highly ironic that Dandelion and AXIS were evoking these thoughts of going nowhere as they shepherded the audience systematically from Ashby to Powell. However, I understand that it was the representation of the idea, not the thing itself, which the piece sought to represent. In other ways The Dislocation Express unintentionally became the real deal. A guard in Ashby BART sought to silence performer David Ryther’s violin playing on the platform. In compliance Dandelion director Eric Kupers asked the audience and performers, all of whom were dancing interactively, to hum loudly. In this way Kupers complied with the letter of the law but perhaps not with the spirit of the law, in something reminiscent of civil disobedience.

I was even more reminded of something akin to civil disobedience when we got to the Powell Street BART. The large rotunda area where Dandelion/AXIS planned on performing was taken by a busker, a young woman singing songs for pocket change. Buskers generally operate on a first come first serve basis, and while The Dislocation Express had permits and had obviously been planning for months, there was still an element of sabotage as the girl stubbornly refused to move and was eventually made to. It made me question who really has the right to a public area, a question well in keeping with space and place in connection to the idea of gypsies.

As the crowd of onlookers saw the busker finally relent and move, the performers paraded into the space, colorfully dressed and bedazzling in bells and ornaments. In contrast to the drab station and the commonplace clothes of the audience, the performers of Dandelion and AXIS looked like something out of another world. In the true spirit of gypsies, they didn’t conform to their environment.

I’ve seen a lot of work by AXIS Dance Company and by Dandelion Dancetheater, and both companies often tackle themes of not belonging and not conforming. Both AXIS dancers and Dandelions are pioneers in many respects in finding their own way of dancing and engaging with art. How very appropriate to evoke gypsies and to have samplings of civil disobedience in The Dislocation Express. It reminded me of a quote by J.R. R. Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

1 comment:

  1. Great article! I wish I had a chance to see some of the shows you see.