More often than not, if you’re in conversation with a dancer, Laban’s dance elements will come into play: body, space, effort, and shape (or relationship, depending on whether you follow Bartenieff or Ullman). Whether outright credited or just talked about by their common names, these elements allow movers of any type – actors, dancers, athletes, and even anthropologists – to place describable words onto the feelings of the gestures they’re performing. As audience members, performers fully embodying these elements and their subsequent traits give us as the observer a sensorial and kinesthetically rich experience and allow us to really feel the emotion or reasoning. Efforts, for example, include four different pairs of actions that can be combined with four different pairs of descriptive words to result in a specified point on a three-dimensional graph – your wave could float or punch, could glide or slash, and do all that with heavy or light weight, with sustained or sudden time. And all of these waves tell us something different about the character they’re portraying in that moment! These choices give the performance life. It’s a beautiful playground to explore as a performer – and dancer Lily McGonigle effortlessly covers her artistic palette with a variety of choices as Blaze in her semi-autobiographical solo, BLAZE.
Performed through Almanac Dance Circus Theatre’s Cannonball Festival, BLAZE follows McGonigle as she tries to make sense of her father’s young adulthood at the same time grappling with her own. In her bio, she writes that she “considers all her work duets,” and it’s immediately felt in this piece: McGonigle’s body and mind take on the presence of her seminary-school-dropout father in early-twenties. In his voice that sounds not so unlike her own, she recounts stories of getting left behind and leaving it all behind, bursting out in slow-motion showgirl joy as (s)he finally take up space. McGonigle, much like Laban, hones in on the notion of space: where we live in the world, where we live in our bodies, and what gets given to us to hold alongside it all. Towards the end of the piece, she recounts a story using a recorded interview with her father where he talks of the time he comforted a man who had been trapped in the rubble of a broken building. “Every time, it’s a little different,” and says, kneeling and gazing placidly at a spot on the bare wooden floor. “We live in someone else’s story.” McGonigle may never truly be able to know what her father lived like, or if it’s the truth at this point, but she can play at the choices he made and the ones he didn’t. In a mid-century rectangle, she carves out a home for herself; simultaneously out in the Midwest and nestled in the city of Philadelphia, she swirls, caresses, breaths, pulses, jumps, sings, and survives. As she learns how to move and witness in this dual form, McGonigle points at the heart of the fallacy: that we’re afraid that we’ll end up like our parents, and that we’re afraid we’ll never be like them.
Although her Cannonball run has finished, you can watch McGonigle weave a new narrative for herself and her father before the end of the year at MOtiVE Brooklyn, where she is an Artist-in-Residence through their 2022 For the Artists! Residency.