Oof. It’s probably been a solid six months (if not more) before I could watch Stacy Grossfield’s Sugar doesn’t live here in one sitting. Getting used to ‘slow dance’ (cf. ‘slow food,’ only get rid of the bougie factor) has been an equally slow process and it’s still in the works. What’s cool, though, is reaching those checkpoints where I can feel myself getting better at something — the mental muscles I’ve flexed for so long are finally able to withstand sustained stress.
Calling this piece a watershed moment in my dance-watching experience might be a lil too dramatic, but in an uncanny and cool way it lights up a ton of points that have been in my view recently. In wondering how the flourishing dance/visart relationship has affected work that tends more strongly toward the former (works favoring the latter seem to be getting the lion’s share of the attention, which makes sense considering how much gravitational pull the visarts world has), and in thinking about the possibilities of dance that effaces the matter-of-fact identity of the performer, I’ve itched to see more dance that breaks common formal considerations open to make room for more ‘visual’ considerations. I’m still trying to figure out what that means, but for starters I’ll note that this piece doesn’t privilege the idea of a ‘stage’ as a singular unit. Spatially, each figure inhabits a separate realm: the women in blue bodysuits, by turns erotic and horrific; the woman caught in a super-long toilet; the brooding villain straight out of a Limón piece (haha, that Zorro mask); the woman and her lover-in-a-bear-suit, who trade melodramatic whispers in a background act that constantly risks lapsing into bad performance art, or at least parodying it.
But what’s more compelling is how they all take these realms with them wherever they go. Limón Guy, for instance, commits to his tilts and frenetic high jumps all the way, and is always accompanied by wistful modernist chamber music even when he crosses some other figure’s path. Eventually the worlds collide, but only after they’ve claimed the space for themselves. And it’s here that the more overtly ‘visarts’ elements of the piece begin to make sense — that is, the jagged plywood archway that sits right in the middle of the space. Insert some thought about the dialectical relationship between dance and visarts that’s all the rage now. Suffice to say for now, though, that everything ‘comes together’ when they all start crawling through the doorway, or when the bear/girl performance-art couple get in an argument that culminates with a loud “Oh, come off it!”.
I think I value the satisfaction of getting through the piece more than I enjoyed the piece itself, but if nothing else I appreciate the way it dips into so many currently-pressing concerns. And it continues! As I said when writing about Meg Foley’s latest piece, I’m really excited by choreographers who prefer to define dance by putting it face-to-face with what it ‘isn’t.’ With its insistent (and largely ornamental?) treatment of visual art and theater in league with dance, Sugar is among the first steps of what looks like a promising body of work.