Sarah Bush - Photo by Lisa Harding

Compress and Expand: A Review of Sarah Bush’s RE-COMPOSE

D.I.R.T. Program B
Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
Friday, January 30, 2015

Re-compose begins with Sarah Bush silently screaming into a spot of red-brown light, bearing her teeth. A new solo work debuting at Dance Mission Theater’s D.I.R.T. Program B, Bush writes that the piece “examines the earthly forces at work in and on my body and their effect over time. Creating this piece gave me the opportunity to look at how both my body and mind respond to pressure.”

Responding to pressure and identifying its sources are questions asked by several women choreographers in this year’s D.I.R.T. festival, including Esmeralda Kundanis-Grow last week in Program A, and Jetta Martin and Alma Esperanza Cunningham in this week’s Program B. Kundanis-Grow’s Sensitive Pressures (which I reviewed last week) sought to locate sites in the female body where one absorbs micro- and macro-aggressions and sexism, and how these social and environmental pressures affect the experience of being gendered as female.

Martin’s Black Swan features Martin and two other black female ballet dancers responding to racism in the ballet world, which is often glossed over as “you’re not the right body type,” as one of the dancers says in an interview voiceover. Some of Martin’s choreography spoke directly to the effect of that racism on their bodies, such as collapse and fragmentation. Cunningham’s She Went dis-identifies with hyper-sexualized images and representations of the female body. It approaches them with dead-pan humor and utilizes awkward physicality and arrangement to disrupt and re-configure the female body and what is imagined.

Bush works with this kind of pressure by taking it into the realm of geology.

In her program notes she references this as a source, and I’m curious to know what she gleaned and incorporated as source material in this piece. When I think of pressure in terms of rock, I think of an incredibly slow condensation, erosion, and sedimentation of material over billions of years—basically everything I learned from Neil deGrasse Tyson’s recent re-boot of the television show Cosmos. Coal is old trees that were compressed into seams in an age before termites could decompose them. Oil is old dinosaurs. These fossil fuels are a compression of ancient, once living, organic material, which is of course being extracted from the earth at an alarming rate. Pressure in terms of rock can also mean sudden, drastic shifts in tectonic plates; sudden shifts that are the product of incremental, sub-atomic ones.

In her program notes, Bush continues by asking:

How do I react to change? Do I become more rigid or more flexible? What do I work to accept or let go of, and what do I resist? What change do I commit to work for and create? When I am worn down, how do I get back up? When do I walk away? How can I keep showing up?

Even within something seemingly solid like rock, there is an entire universe of sub-atomic particles bouncing and jostling; there is, at a certain stage, porousness, vibration, and space. Bush’s beginning silent scream has the resonance of this. She inverts her body into a headstand, slowly moving her legs independently of one another.

Then she begins running and jumping up against the door in the downstage left corner with a surprising, exacted force. Falling back, getting back up, running and jumping again. The cycle feels like a gravitational response as she falls and rolls, tumbling in a circular track.

Then the voice of a person leading a guided meditation enters the sound score. What the person says again and again is “bring your awareness back” to places in the body where we’re experiencing pain or holding onto fear. Bush seems to fight against this voice fiercely, kickboxing her way downstage. Pressure seems to create more pressure, aggression more aggression, but how can we accept the voice within us that says to slow down, to pay attention to our bodies, to accept what we can and cannot do?

Sarah Bush - Photo by Lisa Harding 2

Bush moves downstage again in another pass, this time vigorously shaking her head, gestural arms flung side to side. A bit later she focuses intently on the downstage right corner, and we start to see specific places where anger and pain might be stored in her body. She continues to push against something that doesn’t seem to have a physical manifestation, but which we see affecting her movement. At one point she has her right arm wrapped around her, touching part of her back and left shoulder blade, and her left arm then juts outward, as if she is trying to move or disentangle this knot.

Amidst and against the contraction, tightening, and compression of her movement, Bush also seems to be searching for places of release, elongation, and expansion. At the very end, Bush, dressed in a beautiful shade of red-brown, lifts up a long piece of sheer red-brown fabric. The door opens behind her and a fan gives air and lightness, a moment of release.

Learn more about Sarah Bush and the Sarah Bush Dance Project at