by Isabella Mojares for The Dance Journal
Throughout the 2020-2021 academic year, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wolf Humanities Center has been organizing various events as a part of their Forum on Choice. On March 3rd, the Forum hosted members from the Philadanco company, alongside choreographer Dawn Marie Bazemore and professors Jasmine E. Johnson and Deborah A. Thomas, for a performance and discussion of Dancers’ Choices, Choreographers’ Choices. Moderated by Penn doctoral candidate Dixon Li, the discussion (according to the event description) was about “choice in dance, choreography, and performance, as well as the imaginative and transformative possibilities of dance.”
The first section of the evening featured an excerpt from Bazemore’s work Oshun, a commission for Philadanco that first premiered in 2017. Typically an ensemble piece, Oshun was performed by just four company members. Costumed in bright yellow and orange, the dancers appear floating in space, with moments where they look like they are dancing at each other rather than with one another.
Following the performance, the four Philadanco company members, Clarricia Golden, Joe Gonzalez, Jameel Malik Hendricks, and Courtney Robinson, joined Bazemore, Johnson, and Thomas for the “conversation on choice.” Li, as moderator, opened up the dialogue by posing an incredibly thoughtful question to the panelists, asking them, “how did dance first choose you as a body with history, ideas; one that moves in space?” From this prompt, each of the panelists shared a beautiful testimony about how they became movers. As an audience, we were granted privy to personal histories stemming from sports, familial influence, coincidence, and, ultimately, ending in the gifts that dance has bestowed upon them.
More so than the promised conversation on dancers’ and choreographers’ choices, it seemed like the conversation was closing in on the unchosen aspects of this art form, the parts of the practice that come along unconsciously, the things that we can’t choose. In discussing the piece Oshun, Bazemore mentioned the primacy of storytelling to her and her work. How can she use movement to connect to the community of people viewing her work? How can she connect to the humanness of the dancers she is working with? Later on in the conversation, it was brought up how, as audience members watching a dance performance, we are not just watching with our eyes but also with our whole body. We are trying to make sense of the narrative being related to us but simultaneously processing the physicality of the movement that is serving as the language of that storytelling. Paraphrasing a quote from one of the panelists, the fact is that dance never really leaves your body. Whether you are an avid viewer, a former dancer, a career choreographer, an anthropologist, or just a body in motion, there is some magic in the art of dancing that chooses us and chooses us again, forcing us to reinvent and revisit time and time again.