Noa Weiss on Netta Yerushalmy’s “Distance Dance Demonstration”
We sit like middle schoolers at lunch, cliques separated by social barriers. People chat. “Did you get the job?” “The one at TikTok? No, it was a no. They said they’re on a hiring freeze.” “That’s a shame – ooh!” The person in front of me stops mid-sentence to point at the stage. Hsiao-Jou and Babacar are prancing in sync across the concrete. Movement in unison and not for those in need of art.
I want to shake these IDIOTS who are blocking my view. Do you know what it took to make this? How many contradictory government guidelines on “low-risk outdoor arts activity” they sorted through? How many months of researching the proper distance for physical activity? The weeks without access to space? The Zoom rehearsals?
In truth, I don’t know anything about the production of this piece. The dancers give nothing away. Their unison is easy, and their entrances seem perfectly timed. It’s eerily well-rehearsed. Maybe it’s chemistry, maybe it’s training, maybe the piece was mostly finished before the pandemic. I backtrack and begin to wonder if, in this alternate timeline, it even matters.
Gestures of victory fill the space – a B+ with arms raised (Caitlin), a grand jeté (Nick), a deep arabesque panché (Symara), a full-on back handspring (Babacar) – but no one reacts. I keep looking over at my roommate, my new performance buddy, for reassurance that she’s watching. Near the end, Marc ends up off to the side of the amphitheater. While the cast continues in the center, he does a small phrase from Rite of Spring, then leans against a tree. Did anyone see that?
Even these, the most skilled dancers referencing the most famous choreographers, are obscure in public space. I feel rising panic as I watch pedestrians glance over at the performance and continue walking. Who will care for this absurd dance?
And then the world comes crashing in. A pandemic, an uprising, the shitshow that has always been America. City officials poised to demolish this performance space. The hour-long subway ride that my close friend deemed too risky. In the face of all of that, Netta Yerushalmy put together a show. And when she posted that story on Instagram, I put on my boots and left my apartment.
Stanley wraps up the piece with a solo that pushes the limits of the human hamstring. They slide and spring across the gravel, feet pointed in sneakers, accessories swinging carelessly around their torso. The rest of the cast claps, cueing us to applaud.
As I stand up to leave, I spot a familiar face. We walk towards each other, stop awkwardly before hugging, and list off the references we caught. TikTok dances, Paramodernities, Twyla Tharp. We laugh as the MC butchers Hsiao-Jou’s name, wave, and part ways. Those two minutes are the reason I moved back to the epicenter.
My roommate and I walk away from the show to avoid the next act on the program (stand-up comedy). The rain, which hung heavy in the air throughout the show, finally breaks loose. Maybe something, someone, was watching after all.