From the title one surmises the latest work by Dance Now Miami, “Bridges Not Walls,” is founded on an attempt to offer an alternative to protest and resistance. Resistance is a term often bandied about in contemporary cultural contexts since 2016, particularly among contemporary artists. To see an overtly provocative piece created as work of contemporary dance is in itself relatively unique within the context of cultural output in today’s world. One usually associates protests, marches and resistance as a concept to mass movements like the American Civil Rights period of the early 1960s and the reaction to the Vietnam War during the late 1960s and early 1970s.
In 2019, the cultural producers appear to be at a loss as to how to eloquently articulate a response to the social and governmental turmoil induced by the 2016 Presidential election. In fact, it would be a mistake to locate the origin point of America’s turmoil in that election. It would be far more accurate to consider 2008 or even 1980 as the foundation of the fury facing the United States today.
If you read carefully my two paragraphs above you will notice I have refrained from utilizing the term “political,” though his over-used and under-understood word resonates in a particularly profound manner considering “Bridges Not Walls.” If by “political” we understand the origin of the Greek word and its relationship to those living in a political body, usually in a city, then we must understand the awkward and sometimes conflicting relationship between art and politics.
If art is concerned with revealing truths and providing beauty (however one may describe these words) then we must understand that art and politics are often at odds with each other. This is sometimes the case with the latest work by Dance Now Miami. The group’s recent performance at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts was held at the lovely Amaturo Theater, an intimate space well-suited to the intricacies and intangibles of “Bridges Not Walls.”
The evening began with The Shifting Weight of Water making its world premiere. Choreographed by co-Artistic Director Diego Salterini, Jenny Hegarty Freeman and Ally Ginns-Ayers were standouts in this elegantly visceral composition.
The second performance called Fire Within, Fire Without: Dido on the Pyre brought forth a uniquely sensual display of emotions. The work was choreographed by co-Artistic Director Hannah Baumgarten and displayed a resounding connectivity to the deepest passions one may not always have permission to enlist during quotidian meditations. It was an exceptional experience.
An ensemble piece blending anguish with hope, Bridges Not Walls exists as a response, a cry and perhaps even an expression of joy in the midst of an era when the United States government imprisons innocent children, women and men whose only crime is the request for political asylum as they flee murderous thugs in both their government and city streets. What is transpiring now across the United States is nothing less than a series of crimes against humanity where children are put in cages, abused sexually in many cases and torn apart from their parents in a transparent attempt to coerce and terrorize those fleeing Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and other parts of Hispanic America in search of a life of peace and reliable work for their families.
That Dance Now Miami attempts to address this ongoing American shame is in itself laudable, if not downright heroic. Whether or not its works achieve any real political education or policy change is another question and may be beside the point. The work itself fuses a multiplicity of energies and succeeds in conjurings of major and minor emotions both, thanks to subtle gestures that bespeak madness, a physical and emotional wreckage in our insane times. It is a form of bravery for an artist to even venture into this murky and dark territory so filled with evil and pathos.
While at times it is at best naive and at worst, philosophically and politically negligent to think that adding political meaning to works of dance or art will solve the problems such works aim to bring to light one can never speak for each viewer. Could there have been a young member of the audience inspired enough to run for office or become a social justice attorney?
There are many reasons why art in politics can come across as naive and overly didactic, if not downright self-indulgent but perhaps the most obvious and least understood is the simple fact that the audience of art is usually, already, politically in the same camp or tribe as the artist or artists (in the case of Dance Now Miami) who creates the s0-called “political artwork.” This is a long debate and it applies to painting and sculpture as much as it applies to dance, film or writing. There is a chasm of meaning and an avalanche of separation between the way power functions at the governmental and societal level and what art achieves at its greatest moments: the seduction and illumination of greatness in thought and in spiritual awareness.
This is not to say that art has no ability to engage humanitarian or political causes and crises. One need only examine Picasso’s Guernica or listen to Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising to explore two successful responses to human tragedies that arose from violent conflict.
While I hesitate to label their work “political” though the choreographers themselves may have explicitly intended to make work that addresses topical themes, I do believe the beauty of the Dance Now works likes in the dignified way the expressions of anguish and joy are fused to become a pure form of movement. In the case of Dance Now Miami, their evening was at once a display of willful visceral beauty whose every movement may have felt like an expression of rage as much as an utterance of hope. In this way we owe a debt of gratitude to the dancers, the choreographers and all who helped bring this powerful event into fruition.