The New Ecstatic 2.0 forced me to be and know human
If I forgot I was a human, The New Ecstatic 2.0 reminded me. Watching the duet, created by veteran choreographer Sarah Skaggs in collaboration with dancer Cori Kresge, was like remembering what I knew before: how vast the universe is and how small I am, how being human is to come to terms, reckoning daily with failure, flaws, the complications of expression, and being faced with constant opportunities to adapt.
The New Ecstatic 2.0 brings the audience face-to-face with some of our largest societal mistakes. Skaggs’ past work has focused on 9/11 and the post-9/11 world. Seeing The New Ecstatic 2.0 live in New York, two dancers standing side-by-side in shiny, metallic shirts, it’s impossible not to make the obvious connection. Skaggs’ choreography explores the meaning of human lives in modern context defined by war, imperialism, real and perceived threat, and the confines of joy. It’s quickly clear that the work is an attempt at making sense of the larger universal forces at play. Indeed, as written in the show’s program book, “The New Ecstatic 2.0 looks at how the body navigates everyday experiences of grief, joy, boredom, rage, and freedom in a world defined by extremes.”
While the show’s concepts are broad, three distinct elements bring the world down to earth. Skaggs’ use of stillness, hand gestures, and eye contact show the audience that the out-of-body experience they are viewing is actually quite familiar to their own.
Kresge and Skaggs being the piece standing still, together, under bright light. Slowly an internal energy seizes both dancers. The two begin shaking, subtle at first and then uncontrollable, until they become literally ecstatic. The life force inside of them explodes outward into larger and larger movements to propel the piece forward. Later, Kresge’s solos explore repeated poses with long holds. She portrays an attempt of complete control, not moving. While frozen in place, her breath visibly rises and falls, her limbs shaking with adrenaline. The repetition of movement and holding shows that try as we might, we cannot control the universal forces at work. We are earthly bodies with celestial origins, bursting forth with prana.
The gestures used in The New Ecstatic 2.0 can’t be forgotten. Skaggs’ choreography uses them repeatedly throughout the piece: hands as knife, like a dictator’s arm, the brute use of force; hands as cups, open to receiving or a tool for sustaining; arms gently brushing one another at the wrist, hinting at love and intimacy. Biologically, our hands are distinctly human. They are highly sensitive, filled with nerve endings, a centerpiece of Homo sapiens intelligence. Skaggs’ gestures serve as literal connection point between the unknown and our biology.
The dancers’ faces remain expressionless throughout the piece, but their eyes connected intensely more than once. While the majority of the piece was performed individually by Kresge, a few moments of sustained eye contact between Skaggs and Kresge created an intense connection between the two. Much like the human hands, our eyes are key indicators of our high intelligence and humanity. Their interchanging of perceived facelessness with locking eyes suggested the playing with individuality versus community, uniqueness and commonality. The effect created two metaphorical mirrors: the dancers looking into one another and finding commonality, while the audience viewed the performance and saw itself played out on stage.
The experience of seeing human similarities and differences, both biological and emotional, was to be reminded that we as people are tied by our common imperfections, by our grappling with the complications of the universe, and by our daily existence in the limited human form.