Dance, Visual Arts, and Activism

Human Measure by Cassils Still Frame

The radical climate of the 60s and 70s brought forth a drastic shift in the visual arts. Art forms such as pop art, conceptual art, and performance art were gaining popularity. Among some of these art forms traction for artists to utilize dance in their works began to grow. Born from the roots of defiance, the union between dance and visual arts continues to be used by modern-day artists to fight the status quo. Starting with Pina Bausch’s formative work from 1978, Café Muller, we explore three works that utilize the relationship between dance, visual art, and activism.

Café Muller, 1978 by Pina Bausch

Café Muller consists of six dancers, three men, and three women. The work takes place in a café with a maze of tables and chairs that the dancers often wind their way through. The work portrays the inept efforts between men and women striving to establish relationships. This is apparent in a section of the performance where a man and woman embrace each other but are repositioned by a second man on stage. This man peels the arms of the embracing couple from each other's bodies and places the woman in the outstretched arms of the man she was embracing moments before. As he holds her, she begins to slip from his arms until she falls to the floor. From the floor, the woman quickly stands back up and resumes the original embracing position with the initial man. Upon noticing the resumed position, the second man comes back to the embracing couple and repositions them again. This cycle occurs over and over, growing in speed until the couple begins to reposition themselves without the second man’s interference. The second man's manipulation grows into self-inflicted pain. The work portrays gender not as an inherent biological system, but as an obligatory performance. The man and woman are forced to perform their genders in a specific way that is considered appropriate by society but the only result is confusion and pain.

Stages of Tectonic Blackness: Blackdom by Nikesha Breeze

This durational dance ritual is a collaborative piece featuring Nikesha Breeze and Miles Tokunow as dancers, Lazarus Nance Letcher as the composer, and MK as the cinematographer. The work has a few different iterations, but it was most recently performed in the ruins of New Mexico’s first all-Black town, Blackdom. Stages of Tectonic Blackness: Blackdom is an eight-hour dance and mourning ritual. The movements are slow and done with deep intention. The dancers are accompanied by the sounds of either the movement of dirt beneath their feet or Letcher on the violin. This has a transfixing effect on the viewer as one can’t help but give complete focus on the harmony of the movements and music to the point that time itself begins to feel abstract when watching. A feeling of sorrow yet resistance and community permeates the work. Stages of Tectonic Blackness: Blackdom explores what it is like to be a Black body existing in society today, especially in a society that is infatuated with Black pain and rarely sees Black bodies “finding peace” or “existing in a state of peace.” The slow movements invite all to move slowly in order to feel more deeply. It is a work of Black queer resistance and prioritizes the Black experience.

Human Measure by Cassils

Human Measure

Human Measure by Cassils

Human Measure is Cassils first work of dance choreographed in collaboration with Jasmine Albuquerque. The work features six trans and non-binary dancers who wind their way together through moments of joy, violence, sensuality, and mutual support. The dancers are largely unclothed and bathed in a red light that at times intentionally makes it difficult to see the performance clearly. The music they dance to is composed by Kadet Kuhne and is filled with long, held-out notes that add a trance-like feeling to the work. The performers dance on a muslin canvas that has been treated with a cyanotype solution. Throughout the show, the red lighting is interrupted by a blinding flash of light that imprints the dancer’s bodies onto the muslin. At the end of the work, the dancers gather the fabric and develop it in a tray of water on stage. They then hoist the large print up by ropes to reveal ghostly outlines of the dancer’s bodies across a deep blue color. The work is particularly poignant amidst the unprecedented amount of anti-trans legislation that has been occurring across the United States. These trans and non-binary dancers fight back, making themselves visible and posing the question, “How do we manifest empowerment, sensuality, and self-actualization in a society that actively tries to erase us?”

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