Patricia Hoffbauer / Jesse Zaritt & Jumatatu Poe @ Gibney Dance
I had seen photos advertising Patricia Hoffbauer’s show Dance’s for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People at the new downtown Gibney the many, many days I had been there over the last month, attending classes to keep myself dancing during a time when I have no projects lined up or clear idea of what I’m doing. The photo, on a poster publicizing the burgeoning dance center’s upcoming season, is of a line of people sitting in chairs guiding someone across their laps into a headstand or forward roll. Knowing nothing about the choreographer’s work, that alone made me want to see it. I proceeded to attend the show without researching Patricia or her new work; I wanted to go into the show blank, with no expectations and no prior information.
The night of the show, I went begrudgingly, due only to Hurricane Joaquin and the sore throat I woke up with that morning. In preparing to spend at least an hour sitting in a dark theater, I was caught off guard to learn that I would “find a ‘tour guide’ down the hall with a matching color to the sticker on my program who would lead me through the performance.” I soon found out that the show was split into four parts, each housed in a different studio along that hall, all approximately 13 minutes long and featuring different dancers.
The program listed the four parts by studio:
Studio B: Super Trio
Studio C: Women’s Quartet
Studio D: Men’s Trio
Studio E: Le Corsaire Duet
I immediately felt like I was in gallery rather than at a dance performance, and even though I would sit in each room for the duration of that section, I felt I had more agency as an audience member than I do sitting in a dark theater the entire night. Even though I never would, I felt like I had the option to get up, walk out, and find a new room at any moment. I was more in control of my experience and at ease; the sense of community and casual observation Hoffbauer created with this particular, friendly format made for a comfortable audience experience. The assigned itineraries also gave us automatic companions with whom to migrate and discuss our thoughts after each section.
While every section existed in different contexts and locations, they were very much related in tone and topic. Each of the four sections presented a discussion of age and tradition, and how they interact. The cast of Dances for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People is an intergenerational group, with backgrounds spanning different eras and styles of dance. I felt a heightened level of critical attention, viewing each section as if in a gallery. With the lights bright in the studios, everything was in plain sight. I was not a secret observer as I often feel I am in theaters, but a willing participant in her cultural cataloging. I encountered post-modern phrase work, soft shoe routines, and a pas de deux in Le Corsaire Duet. In Men’s Trio I watched three black men of different generations move and talk through dance legends and traditions all complicit in the cultural placement of moving black bodies. At one moment the oldest dancer in the room, David Thompson, called to the others, “I’m tired of your millennial bullshit,” after he questioned how what they were doing had to do with race or had to do with dance. I was struck by what I understood in this moment as the discrepancy between how people of my generation view the importance and relevance of addressing social justice issues in dance and the views of those before us. Perhaps we want to discuss it more or perhaps our predecessors think we complain too much. I appreciate Thompson’s candor – I think we could use a little more of that.
Hoffbauer presents age in different ways throughout the piece, and ends with a slow, comedic death by the entire cast that is both hilarious and representative of the desire to maintain youth or avoid death and being forgotten. I saw in Dance’s for Intimate Spaces and Friendly People that youth is of value; in Super Trio when dance legend Yvonne Rainer stands and begins to make her way into the space to dance, Keith Sebado chides her to sit back down, that her time is over. In every section excluding the duet there were verbal references to time, history, or age. In the duet, the two struggled to find perfection in their movement – here more than in any other section I noticed the focus on youth. While this section stood apart in that way, the other three shared a feeling of a time before, some reference to the past. In each the cast sang lyrics from the song “I could be happy with you.” That became a huge part of the meaning of the piece; whomever they were talking to – each other, the audience, themselves, the dance world, their youth – there was a sense of coexistence and contentment with how things are.
One week later, I went back to Gibney to see the next show of their season, More Mutable Than You, choreographed in collaboration by Jesse Zaritt and Jumatatu Poe. I was drawn to see this show because of a small connection I have to Jess; three years ago I took his improvisation class at an ADF winter intensive and found him incredibly compelling as a dancer and thought-provoking as a teacher. This show, in the theater, didn’t employ Gibney 280’s space in the way that Hoffbauer’s show did – the format was more ordinary. What I felt, in watching this piece, was a very different energy from what I had experienced the prior week. I was reminded of the community that Hoffbauer had created and being in the same space a week later felt quite different – that I was not included in Zarrit and Poe’s performance as a participant but as a witness.
Their title and program notes contain reference to the difficulty of collaboration. As cited, they began working together as strangers; a brief paragraph describing the work was followed by two letters, one by each artist to the other, broken up to be read one stanza at a time as a call-and-response. “Vanity,” Poe brings up, “seems like it is necessarily a part of a collaborative duet in which the performers are the creators.” This idea of vanity stuck with me throughout the performance. They discuss in these letters being unfixed and allowing parts of their ethical, historical, cultural identities to be moved and changed. Rather than experiencing this as liberating, as a viewer, it felt selfish. While I think their intentions and concepts are deep and noble, I experienced this standstill of collaboration, an unwillingness to forfeit one’s own choreographic desires regardless of impact on the piece as a whole. I decided to write a letter to them from me.
For Jesse and Jumatatu, from Hannah:
I can see how you do not want
to give in.
it is hard to forfeit your voice and opinion and
I am interested to see harmony
or minds. I don’t need to see both
see you work
with much selfless
effort to concede to one
another and I did yearn for that.
I do not need perfect
unison or neat partnering or well balanced
weight sharing. I do not need equal contribution or
better yet, I do not want to be able to differentiate what is yours and what is his.
I, perhaps selfish myself, want to be spared the
delicacy of ego and the difficulties of
I see your desire to tell your own stories,
and I just wonder
how much knowing how to tell a good story is about
how to listen well?
I am taken often by simplicity and in your simplest
Form you carried me out of the reality of a duet between strong headed strangers
and I watched.
It is not that process is uninteresting, it just appeared
that your process was a battle
unrelenting and not relinquished
continuing to happen onstage to your delight.
Could you flap your arms again and again
with curled strings like pom-poms,
your own cheerleaders,
till you could no longer?
Then spread these strings, as you did, in a ruckus.
That duet was mesmerizing and I would be stunned with
stark, harmonious that.