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Improvising Androgyny

There are several reasons why the performance Insignificant Others (learning to look sideways) by young Austrian dance artist An Kaler was worth seeing, even twice.

For the start, it is performed by three dancers (Antonija Livingstone, Alex Baczynski-Jenkins and An Kaler herself) whose skills as dancers are outstanding. By skills, I don’t mean only control of the body, but the physical and emotional investment in their physical actions, what as a result takes this performance to the more complex level than its initial structure proposes.   Watching for an hour three persons moving the way those three move, was captivating and inspiring.

The format of this work offered an authentic experience: the starting point for the audience wasn't the starting point for the performers. At first we hear their footsteps as they run towards the stage door. They storm on the stage, visibly exhausted and sweaty, and they slowly calm down, facing each other, always looking sideways. They take their time.

The flow of the performance and its dynamics were slowly picking up to the maximum and dissolving again into almost nothing, to rise again to the extreme intensity. There were several endings and long periods of hesitation. The code of choreography is not very complex – dancers share the space, but they don’t watch each other. They improvise alone, but always in relation to another. Sometimes they take movements from one another as an impetuous; sometimes they share the energy, and the other time the stillness. Nothing much happens, but intensity of being together is another memorable premise of Insignificant Others.

The „choreography“ was improvised what resulted in the feel of suspense. The concentration/awareness/presence that was needed to deliver improvised movement on this level of speed, energy, clarity and aesthetic coherence is an evidence serious intervention during the rehearsal period. The alertness of performers was transferred to the spectators thus nobody in the room knew what is going to happen next. And yes – there were some unexpected, risky, quite impressive instant movement solutions going on.

The question of androgyny, much talked about in relation to this work, is the point where this performance becomes more than well done movement research. How is that achieved in an abstract movement improv? (Most people wear jeans, t-shirts and boots, but they don't make gender trouble.)

My suggestion is that the androgyny in Insignificant Others was constructed primarily through the movement material and use of space; while Antonija Livingstone tends to use more compact movements, throws and head swings, Alex Baczynski-Jenkins insists in extreme turned-out leg work, beck bends and long and open lines of the arms. (Whether these movement choices are intentional or not, is irrelevant). In the way our culture works long limbs, flexible hips and light body are perceived as „feminine“ categories and athletic, compact, direct body as “male”. I am not trying to say that he “danced as a woman” and she “as a man”, but that the gender identity can be manipulated in such a marginal thing as the difference between parallel or turned out position and corporeity of a dancer.

The other point is the way dancers positioned themselves towards each other in the space. Most of the time (at the first performance in ImPulsTanz Vienna 2012) Livingstone and Baczynski-Jenkins appear to be the driving force, both of them performing with self-assurance and strong personal style. As the “third”, An Kaler was hiding from the „spotlights“. As much as her energy and dancing skills were equal to the others, her movement was more inward orientated, her presence was demure, and she was using rhetorically „weaker“ spaces on the stage, as if she was hiding. That intentionally understated presence, combined with aggressive even self-destructive movement style, boyish costume and haircut, underlined the gender play.

And the last point –

although they didn’t look in the eyes of each other,

although they danced isolated from each other,

although they didn’t touch or do synchronized sequence,

they were together.

The performers of Insignificant Others (learning to look sideways) created deep connection with each other  and that connection, that feeling of caring for the person moving next to you is something worth seeing and keeping in the memory.



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