Proximity: Review

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★★★★★

After previewing Proximity, my impression (from a position of total ignorance), was that it was a show about the im/possibility of unity between two proximate bodies. The ‘theory’ was based on the musical idea of contrapuntal fugue, the idea that you can start with two musical strands and then synthesize them into a coherent whole. So far as I understood them, the dances painted in movement on the canvas of space and time. The possibility of synthesis was the suggestion that the dancer’s drawings might coincide at some fundamental point.

Having seen the show, I think Proximity is much more simply and fundamentally an expression of shared subjectivity. Over the course of 10 dances, we see a series of scenarios in which two dancers stand in some sort of relation to each other. The dancers then proceed to work out what their relation will turn out to be. Symmetry and asymmetry, convergence and divergence, continuity and discontinuity; these are the patterns which structure the possible relations between the dancers. With great ingenuity and eloquence, choreographer Emmy Everest Phillips used these structures to consistently engage and command the audience. By the end, I realized that the beauty and the art of her choreographies was not (as in fugual music) in the artifice behind the achievement of structural unity. Rather their beauty lay in what they could express of our relations to others. In short what was being said, was far less black and white than the mere opposition of unity and disunity. 

At this point I have to admit my failings as a reviewer. I was not able to fully comprehend what was being said. It was easier to discern in cases where the dances were comprised of less abstract and more easily recognizable gestures and movements. In one dance for example, what appeared as a couple stood in front of each other, covering each other’s mouths. This almost visual metaphor opened a space for the insertion of all manner of texts, from romantic to political (or both, heaven forbid). They then played out various attempts to consummate the tension between them. On my own reading, it was a playing out of a certain relationship dynamic. Both were forbidding and encouraging each other but ultimately the tension of the paradox was too much and one of them gave up.

In another metaphor heavy piece, one of the dancers performed in front of a white sheet on which we could see the silhouette of an opposing figure. At first the two figures mirrored each other, but before long their movements started to fall out of sync until eventually, having diverged completely, it became clear that it was the silhouette that was dictating the movements. The image of the silhouette as a controlling and controllable fragment of the dancer, can be a place holder for any number of things. But what fascinated me was the resolution to the alternating symmetry and asymmetry og two figures– the dancer in front of us kicked the shadow and at once the rear light behind which created the silhouette turned of. Ultimately, the point of contact between two proximate bodies was too much, the possible unity was too much. I think this is a fascinating and very thought provoking resolution.

Aside from the ingenuity of the choreographies, praise needs to be given to the music and lighting. The music was extremely well chosen, being at once interesting enough to give the dancers moments and variations to work with, but not so intrusive as to detract from the dances themselves. The lighting likewise, provided a very subtle and effective embellishment to certain moments. For example, a change in color in correspondence with a change in music and tone, was used to great effect in accentuating the flow and atmosphere of the piece as whole.

The overriding element of this production however, (over and above all this over intellectualizing) was the sensation of joy. The last ten minutes were an ecstatic and thrilling celebration of the captivation of dance. Set to a throbbing remix of what I think was Tick of the Clock by The Chromatics, these last few scenes were a fantastically primal and joyous exaltation of… well I don’t know what exactly- jois de vivre perhaps? It was the feeling of joy and invigoration from these precious closing moments that will stay in my memory for a while to come. 

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