D.I.R.T. Program A
Dance Brigade’s Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
Friday, January 23, 2015
A Review of Esmeralda Kundanis-Grow’s SENSITIVE PRESSURES
Two metal clothing racks and a small black end table appear downstage. Hanging on the racks are an assemblage of this season’s haute couture: a blazer, a beanie, a bike helmet, a black trash bag, a wig, a pair of Converse, a pair of gloves, and some tattered gauze.
Four dancers enter in darkness. Warm orange light begins to glow from two circular floor spots upstage. A high-pitched industrial drone whines and ramps up. Beautifully backlit, the dancers carry the table and roll the racks back, in what I thought was a subtle and genius way to begin.
It’s runway time.
In the program notes, Kundanis-Grow writes:
The D.I.R.T. is the emotional withholding and displacement that occurs when faced with continual aggression and anxiety from our surrounding environment. “Sensitive Pressures” is research into the presentation of the contemporary, female experience and how our body/bodies have been affected every day by a history of male possession and power. The work explores what it takes to identify where in the body we hold our environmental pressures/aggressors and how we might use this awareness to shift the physical, emotional, and spiritual states of the body towards greater self-empowerment and presence.
I was intrigued by Kundanis-Grow’s decision to use a runway, as well as the performance of “runway,” as a site in which to not only interrogate the male and misogynist gaze, but to also reveal the very internal landscape of nerves and soft tissues affected by these micro- and macro-aggressions.
The genre of the runway fashion show embodies and advertises certain types of desired, socially acceptable, yet highly idealized or romanticized femininities. One is sort of blank or overly neutralized; the models have bored, vacant faces and their bodies seem to be frail, emaciated, blank slates. Another is hyper-charged and sexually objectified; the female body is loosely and minimally covered, exposed.
But there’s also a disturbing collision of these two that creates a vacant, seemingly sexually available female body, one that does not speak and seems indifferent to the heavy scrutiny of the crowd, to being constantly watched. She returns again and again in different garments, but does the same walk, walks the same track, pauses in the same places, stares straight ahead, silent. She becomes a kind of magazine cover specter haunting the western imaginary of the feminine.
Performers Caroline Alexander, Hallie Dalsimer, Dominique Nigro, and Rebecca Siegel each have a distinctive and very specific physicality to their walk, which is either sourced from, satirizing, or otherwise responding to these representations. One is very subtle and reserved in a ruffled blouse, blazer casually flung over the shoulder. Another has an austere and angular severity. A third wears splattered jeans and a slightly confused look, her strides wide and somewhat lost. The faces each of them give at the end of the runway before turning around are priceless.