A Satiated Hunger – Rachel DeForrest Repinz’s ALL YOU CAN EAT!

by Isabella Mojares for The Dance Journal

When I first sat down to watch Rachel DeForrest Repinz’s MFA thesis film, ALL YOU CAN EAT!, I must admit, I was also about to eat dinner. Since performances have gone online and on-demand, this has become a frequent activity of mine. While I wouldn’t dream of munching on a bagel during Appalachian Spring in the theatre, now that my living room has become the theatre, grabbing a bite to eat as I sit down to watch is not out of the question.

It is in these exact pockets of routine and norms that ALL YOU CAN EAT! (AYCE!) came to life. Born out of a combination of an interest in creating dances around simple, everyday themes and a logbook of international experiences and travels, Repinz decided to focus on eating culture — its routines, nuances, and, above all, its universality and familiarity. To put in her words: we all have to eat if we are alive, but exactly how, when, with who, and what we eat is dictated by a slew of things.

Hearing Repinz talk about the film, it was evident how rich of a process this was, the ways she uniquely and cleverly wove her research and interests into the final product. Her research on accessibility is not just about relatable subject matter but also about incorporating the “disability aesthetic” (i.e., assistive and adaptive tools such as Braille or American Sign Language) into performance, without the disability being the primary storyline or narrative. At its core, AYCE! is intended to be a dance for all, a celebration of the things we all do and often enjoy doing together.

Much of the movement in the film is clean and gestural, in part due to the choreographer’s collaboration with a former professor who had a deep knowledge of ASL. Pulling specific words and lines and turning to the poems written by another collaborator, Nicky Brown, Repinz incorporated sign language into the vocabulary of AYCE!, both directly into the choreography and as a starting point for generating movement. She describes the incorporation of ASL into the process as an element that elevated her already simplified aesthetic, adding another level of storytelling and depth to the gestures she creates.

The best part about speaking with an artist, in my opinion, is watching them light up as they begin to speak about their work, especially with a project as robust as ALL YOU CAN EAT! My conversation with Repinz was fascinating — I listened to her talk about how red, orange and yellow are colors frequently used by food brands and have now assimilated into our cultural consciousness as “hungry colors.” She told me about how, while in Tokyo, she noticed people seldom ate on the go. If they did decide to sip a drink or snack on something, they would step to the left of the sidewalk and take a bite. My eyes widened, and we both laughed, recounting how frequently we’d both eat entire meals while in transit or how natural it feels to chug a coffee while crossing the street. A small detail, maybe, but a cultural habit that Repinz worked into the piece by choreographing movements to the left and including moments of starting and stopping.

Towards the end of our conversation, Rachel and I talked about the inevitable, touching on how COVID-19 forced this project into a dance film instead of a live concert. Though not what was intended or expected, she expressed how working on AYCE! opened her up to the possibilities that dance films hold, especially regarding collaboration.

While it is impossible to think about the pandemic and not grapple with the losses we’ve all had to face, I would also be remiss not to consider the flexibility and new possibilities we’ve now had to reckon with. The first time I sat down to watch All You Can Eat!, I was all alone at home, a week or so before the December holidays. As I pushed aside my dinner, deciding to focus just on the film, a different hunger of mine was satiated — the one longing for company, for connection, for a communal meal. In the last lines of the poem, Sharing Supper, written in collaboration for this project, Nicky Brown writes:

Isn’t it such a neat thing
to see this table of strings
and how each thread extends
to your seat at the end

In a time where we all find ourselves in a state of yearning, Repinz’s All You Can Eat! is a wonderful reminder of what can come out of artistic collaboration and the solace that gathering around the kitchen table can bring. You can watch All You Can Eat!, read Nicky Brown’s poems, and learn more about Rachel and her collaborators at https://allyoucaneat.online/

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