Sam Kim’s “Sister to a Fiend”

samIn following up Stormy’s interview with Sam Kim about “Sister to a Fiend,” the inaugural work of Gibney’s newly renovated Studio C at 280 Broadway, I invited two current students from Hunter College’s Dance Program to share their responses to the work. Kim’s work has long compelled and puzzled me.  I take delight in her bizarre, at times monstrous, very often subtle and sublime arrangements of bodies in space. Repeatedly, I find an affirmation of the potential for dance to serve as an effective vehicle for expansive and deeply personal work inside her deft crafting and adamant transgression of prettiness.  “Sister to a Fiend” satisfied on multiple levels of intimacy, physical effort, and a potent redefining of the feminine. From an opening incantation of repeated gestures by Kim, Amanda Kmett’Pendry, and Joanna Kotze to a surprising crash into darkness, I was entranced by the heady brew of these three women negotiating with ritual and the various spaces of their internal structures, contact with others, and the studio around us.  – Maura


My thoughts on Sam Kim’s “Sister to a Fiend” come immediately to liminality, in both the anthropological and theoretical performative sense. The three women put themselves through a series of complex rituals, shivering with an inner tension which seems at times about to break the dance apart, into the point where the ritual comes into the liminal. In this state the three women are at a disorienting threshold, liminal in the anthropological sense, where in the middle part of rituals, the old order comes into dissolution – a place of possibility. At this point a powerful inner sexuality is put on display through considered, rhythmic movement which evokes sexual energy in contact between Joanna and Amanda – but this sexual landscape remains caged and limited, bound internally into the performers and additionally in being literally boxed in by the gaze of the audience in the round. The other striking liminal moment contains a similar inner tension, where towards the end of the piece, Joanna and Amanda slowly push against the boundaries created by the box of the audience. Amanda moves backwards out of the constructed performance space to a corner of the studio, returning to the same rhythmic leg movements which were her very first movement in the piece. The beginning of the ritual is recalled, and suggests perhaps an inevitability and entrapment, which is further solidified by the tension between boundaries as Amanda remains unable to break the second barrier, this time physically insurmountable.

If I were to situate sam’s role, I would say that she operates as performative master, but is defined and limited by her own role as choreographer which plays out visibly in the dance. she is the most-trapped agent of the piece despite defining it; it is particularly apparent when she is in a congealed state of incredibly slow motion as the second moment i wrote about plays out, seemingly consciously denied the possibility of action. Liminality is suggested by “Sister to a Fiend” but its possibility, in the end, is denied, a sobering recognition of how the possibilities of bodies on display are defined by the relationship created among the performers, the audience, and the space.

– Max Siegling, efemmera


The intimate experience became more valuable to me compared to experiences I’ve had watching dances in big theaters. Feeling the wind generated by the movement of the dancer was very precious. Not only was I seeing it from the best possible vantage point but I was able to feel it. Previously, Sam mentioned that she is interested in breaking the fixation on beauty, in “going beyond beauty and using dance as a platform to express a wild range of truth and experience.”  I appreciate artists who aren’t interested in pacifying the audience and leaving them in awe. If anything, I am satisfied when I’m left perplexed by a dance I’ve seen. I think like Sam said, beauty by itself can be tiring to look at. I guess audience members want to see flawed dancers – another word may be “human beings” – moving in space. I don’t want to watch how fairies dance. I’d rather watch very flawed human beings expressing themselves with reckless abandon.

Sam Kim and her dancers weren’t dancing like fairies. They didn’t give me the pretty/calm face. I was satisfied by that, I don’t enjoy watching dancers trying to stay calm and poised while performing because that creates a barrier between the performer and the audience. I guess what I want is more transparency. If the dancer is really tired, I’d want to know that. Knowing that they are tired while still executing movements adds more value to the performance. I am given a chance to empathize with the performers instead of just cognitively, so I liked that I could see the dancers’ red faces and red markings on their skin, reminding me of the movements they were doing, again more transparency. I was able to hear every time they hit their bodies or hit the floor.

– Rinadel Espiritu

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