Vulnerability v. Strength

Although we have been rehearsing “O Mortal” as a company, today I was asked by our instructor, the Chair of OSU’s Department of Dance, to perform it as a solo.  Unfortunately, in my anxiety of executing it for the first time truly in absence of the comfortable forest of surrounding bodies, I failed to dance the solo in my best capacity.  The barren landscape of the studio, like a field opened by the cutting down of once prosperous vegetation and towering trees, proved an incredible weight on my nerves, forging a space for anxiety and mistake.

And yet, in this expanse, through this flustered experience, I confronted a revelation.  For the first time, I was able to tap into the intent of the movement itself; a juxtaposition of vulnerability and strength.

The piece speaks to this innately human paradox.  Through its expectation of control, sensitivity, and constant motion, the choreography never allows for discontinuity.  It does not stop. Rather, the solo lives in uninterrupted movement.

The solo itself seems to breathe, an interminable execution of embodied inhalation and exhalation.  This is evident in its patterned repetition of pure expansion and contorted diminishment. The dancer kisses the wrists above the forehead, fingers spreading like the petals of a lotus.  The torso slowly reaches toward the left.  As the torso bends, the arms extend, protruding from the upper torso.  The limbs align with the core’s prescribed trajectory, stretching beyond that of the core in their freer capability, lengthening the body with greater severity toward the left.  However, the arms themselves continue, causing the body to reallocate authority of movement from the impetus of the core to that of the finger tips, which lead the torso toward the floor.  As soon as it expands, the body is led into a contraction, the torso curling into the crevice created by the hip-width separation of the legs.

There is vulnerability in this persistent breath, as in the slowness of execution, the dancer is expected to move fluidly, without corners or divots.  An invariable unfolding of action. A run-on sentence of movement.

To move slowly without rigidity or any moment of ceasing requires control. And yet, because some of the positions the dancer must move through insist a certain level of difficulty, such as careful ponches or high extensions, an amount of unpredictability exists. The dancer must fight for stability in an intrinsically unnatural position.  In the battle against gravity, a shaky balance, or any other factor which may undeniably contribute to the inability to lower one’s torso toward the floor as the leg rises behind, there is substantial uncertainty. The dancer risks. Yet, in the fight to perform and more, to continue without faltering or breaking the unraveling stream of movement, there is power.

Further, the sensitivity of the movement pervades another embodiment of strength and vulnerability.  In order to honor the movement quality described by the choreographer, the dancer must tap into a careful awareness. An awareness of the motion both internally and externally, as the body responds to stimuli and reacts to the encircling forces and space, engaging cells, bone, muscle, and flesh.  The lifting of a leg is not merely a task, but a process: the contraction of the abdominals, the stabilizing of the upper hamstring, the engagement of the quadricep, the lengthening of the knee, the reach of the ankle, the curling of the toes.  The dancer is asked not simply to lift to leg, but to be sensitive to the series of actions that must collaborate to achieve the lift itself. Again, a vulnerability in sensitivity and simultaneous strength in execution.

I only hope that with the next run through of the solo, I can attune my body to the confrontation and employment of this vulnerability to comprise the vulnerability of performance to aid rather than hinder my dancing.