Blushing at BAM
In the program notes to Blush, performed by Gallim Dance at BAM last week, Andrea Miller, the work’s choreographer and the artistic director of Gallim, mentions some of the emotions a blush is caused by: discomfort, embarrassment, anger, love. Typically, one might recoil from the sensations that inspire a blush, but Miller’s hour-long work forces the viewer to confront these unsettling feelings in all their complexity.
The mood of the dance pervades the entire performance space even before the work begins. The lighting is dark, and a palpable mist fills the room. There is no curtain, so the viewer immediately sees the small, intimate stage with a square of white tape like a border on the floor. This border acts as a sort of barrier of confinement for the dancers, trapping them inside their own emotions. Throughout the dance, there are moments when the thick mist makes it difficult to see more than shadows of the dancers. Sometimes, the lights bordering the stage are almost blinding, and the music almost uncomfortably loud. There are many transitions in the style and volume of the music, and these mirror the way the dance shifts in pace, from sections where all six dancers frantically run across the stage to sections with much more stillness, with only one or two dancers on stage.
In the same way that the set unapologetically demands attention and pushes the audience out of their comfort zone, the movement is bold and unafraid, but also punctuated with a sharp attention to detail. The women walk on all fours, rolling their shoulders exaggeratedly. The hands are given the most intricate part of the movement here, as they are placed deliberately and with flourish onto the ground. Some movements abandon tradition without attempting to hide it, as when dancers stand with hunched shoulders. This is particularly clear in the dancers’ interactions with one another. A woman launches herself into the arms of a man, who catches her in a way that acknowledges her weight, and then seems to throw her into her next position. Each time she attempts to run to another part of the stage, two of the men pull her back, finally lifting her up together. In one duet, a man and woman are not quite able to connect, though they seem to be trying. They twine and twist around each other without really being in sync: she tries to put her arms around him but they stick out awkwardly and she cannot close the embrace. With this section in particular, Miller seems to touch on something truly honest about human relationships, perhaps something not everyone would be willing to admit.
In another duet, two men tumble over each other on the ground with a speed and intense physicality that is reminiscent of wrestling. This grounded movement is counterbalanced by instants of seeming suspension. One man flips over the other, and comes down to earth so slowly that he seems to be floating. Other sections also provide these moments of balancing grace, as when the women slowly raise and lower their arms almost like wings. And, in the end, despite moments of intensity or confusion or discomfort, Miller leaves the viewer with a feeling of hope, and almost of relief. To the tune of an upbeat song, the dancers triumphantly rip the white border from the stage as they dance off, as if removing the boundaries that prevent them from feeling free.
Perhaps by exploring what is behind a blush, we can begin to move beyond the embarrassment or anger that holds us back. Or maybe not. Blush is a work that begs to be seen more than once, and as a viewer it can be difficult to keep up with so much going on. But regardless of whether one thinks Blush is successful, it is clear that Gallim Dance is a company to watch. Under Miller’s guidance, they continue to explore new and intriguing ideas, and to bring fresh perspective to them. This kind of imagination and creativity is to be applauded.