by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal
On Saturday, October 4th, I joined the most memorable Zoom meeting I have ever attended. Out of the Darkness was Sanders’ closure for this hailstorm of a year, with a jarringly honest, but encouraging, undertone. Nick Schwasman, the host with the radio voice, kindly instructed the audience how to go incognito so that three different camera angles could be viewed without interruptions. Awkward selfies were plentiful, but we got the hang of it in time. Schwasman brought Sanders on to discuss his changing approach to the choreographic process over the past few months, and he explained how we must continue to work through our grief. On this day in particular for me, grief was working overtime, so I cooled down once I knew that others were carrying this weight too. He ended with a simple plea to go out and vote. As a person invested in the fight to sustain the arts and the beautiful world I once knew, there was no question about it.
The first performance was a duet with Philadanco dancer Victor Lewis Jr. and company dancer Jess Adams. Their dexterous bodies occupied the intimate space that the presence of a bed creates. The couple moved through the motions of love and relationships, and Lewis secured himself into the safety of the white silks suspended from the ceiling. He allowed the silk to unravel and he revolved around Adams with the confidence of someone who has the skill to avoid a collision, even when gravity could have other plans. Before the show, I thought that the three different camera angles would be overwhelming, but now it could be a necessary component for dance on film. The connection between Lewis and Adams gorgeously transported us to the misty place where humans experience love in its highest form.
A cameo by Sanders himself followed, wherein his feet were trapped and he was dressed as an enthusiastic and extremely unkempt conductor. The apparatus he was being held by allowed him to lean every which way, defying gravity as the late and great Michael Jackson once did. He was clearly swept up in the commotion, that with such vigor, he pretended to play the violin with a strand of his hair for the strings and his pointer as the bow. This outrageous performance was momentous because it pulled a genuine laugh from the pit of my belly, and it was the first laugh to ever leave my lips in a Zoom meeting.
Jess Adams closed the show by leaning against a wall of objects that took a long time for my mind to decipher. Shortly after my brain comprehended the scene before me, I muttered to myself, “it can’t be.” It was, and Adams turned our world upside down as she effortlessly lifted herself atop a urinal that was affixed to the wall. She made us look at something that is usually disgusting, but functional, and made it beautiful. She traversed across the rock-climbing wall of urinals like a seasoned climber, and I yelped as she jumped and held on to the next one, swinging from a great height. Water poured onto her face as she swung, but her grip tightened somehow. As she climbed further and higher, I kept asking how it was all even remotely possible, and my mind is still reeling even days after.
It’s easy to find comfort in art you understand the theory of. I am still emotional at ballets that I have seen hundreds of times, but I know them well enough to not be perplexed by them. Watching Out of the Darkness left me questioning just how far dance can travel into the depths of us. Brian Sanders went there and left me differently than how traditional concert dance leaves me. The show was 30 minutes long, but he hand-picked exactly what he wanted to say because it is evident in the end result of his generated work. It is all a testament that art is a privilege not to be wasted frivolously or to be taken lightly, and that art can both mourn the present and offer hope for the future. He said what he needed to say and made it count.
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