by Courtney Colón for The Dance Journal
What happens when we closely observe our interior selves? How can a meditative practice lead to stronger community relationships? In Shannon Murphy’s Dark Moon, a ritual dance practice-turned-performance, finding connection and fostering fellowship occurs by way of the digestive tract. Most recently presented at ArcheDream for Human Kind, Dark Moon seamlessly weaves together a live sound score by musician Steve Surgalski and a constantly evolving movement score by eight performers.
Bodies lay scattershot on the floor, all in different positions of repose, outlined in pink lighting. One body, in particular, lays on her back, a microphone mounted above her mouth. And this is how the performance begins with a narration guiding the audience and movers through the digestive tract of the body. As melodic, tonal music plays, we are guided from the mouth, through the “floppy tube” of the esophagus, and down, down, down. The performers initially seem to be in a deeply internal place, lying unmoving with eyes closed. Somewhere around talk of the diaphragm, micro-movements begin to occur. These shifts keep building on themselves. Languid, full-body actions signify the large intestines, and when we are all asked “what does this body really want?” levels change for the first time and powerful movement is embraced.
As the oral narration ends, the music switches to an energetic club beat. What follows is approximately sixty minutes of a loose score the movers inhabit and play with joyfully. There are definitive phrases here, to be sure, yet traditional power dynamics in dance start to shift as individual agency is promoted and each player makes their own clear and informed choices. Each performer seemingly decides when and where to enter and exit the space, how much of a phrase to execute, and in what way-there are constant riffs changing direction, levels, and timing. The dancers could also decide to simply go within the borders of the moving space and improvise, or make contact with others within the space. This type of structuring allowed for beautiful, tense, and complex performances to build; fleeting moments of relationship-building and micro suspensions, all composed within tiny pockets of temporality. Each person within the space worked as an individual, while simultaneously existing as part of a collective, the score functioning as its own mini-model of society. Connections happened spontaneously with a low level of controlled chaos, still, yet every decision was made in an acute and aware way. Everyone would come together as a community eventually, and it was in these times of unity between all bodies that the piece would continue forward. Indeed, these were the standout moments where all seemed more exposed and vulnerable: the group attempting to keep one of their own suspended pendulous in the air, or howling together at an unseen moon. Eventually, Dark Moon ended as it had started, quietly, and without much fanfare, giving the illusion that it might truly go on forever.
Dark Moon allowed me space to consider a great many things-dance as spectatorship, themes of pack mentality and societal rules, and the politics of having engaged bodies in space. There was a clear dialogue between the artists, with strong roots manifested only from hours upon hours spent together in the studio. All of this seeded by the thought of moving from a deeply internal place-may we all, with just a bit more frequency, listen to our guts.
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