Look to Dance to Understand the Everyday, and Other Lessons From Gia Kourlas

Gilbert asks: One of the things that I’ve come to realize about being a dance critic is how much of it involves writing about bodies in such a direct way, at least relative to the other performing arts, in which discussions about bodies as physical things have been largely (and probably rightly) scaled back. Does that ever feel fraught to you?

Gia answers: Generally, it doesn’t feel fraught, but at the same time I am aware of the sensitivity it takes to write about the body and how easily something could be misconstrued. I don’t want to hurt someone — and that’s not to say that I haven’t — but I try my best not to be cruel. And while I might love the way a dancer’s leg is shaped or the length of an arm, I don’t like to fetishize the body or dancers. To write about them as creatures or objects is really distasteful to me. Dance is about the body, but I don’t think entirely about what a body looks like — sometimes a skinny dancer can’t really dance. I love older dancers. And I really am excited to see performances by the dancers who have just had babies because I think their dancing will change — it will have a different kind of awareness and freedom.

What’s more important to me is what that body does, how it moves through space, what residue it leaves behind; or, in stillness, how it changes and holds the space around it. One thing that is so interesting to me about this digital age in performance is how the dancers who have complete command of their bodies don’t lose their magnetism and directness on film. Ayodele Casel’s recent Joyce show, “Chasing Magic,” blew me (and Mandy Patinkin, too, apparently) away, and part of the reason was the power of the dancers, including herself — how I could feel the power of her dancing and the cellular control she has over her body through the screen. It’s wild. Mayfield Brooks, in “Whale Fall,” another digital performance, was so intuitive, so visceral. It was another performance that bled through the screen.

Gilbert asks: I remember early on in this pandemic, after the performing arts shut down, you wrote a piece about how we were all trying to steer clear of each other in public places because of a fear of spreading the virus. It was you seeing the ways civilian bodies were moving in relation to each other and being able to write about it. It’s one of the many ways in which you see “dance” as existing outside of the typical venues — in all forms of culture, and in everyday life. I guess that’s not a question more than an observation.

Gia answers: At the start of the pandemic, I could feel that people were suddenly becoming aware of their bodies: of their placement in space, of standing up a little straighter in order to — in my imagination at least — feel their own weight. People are so alienated from their bodies. Recently I wrote another story, which I think of as a companion piece to the one you mentioned, called “Slowing Down to Feel.” That was in January, when the shutdown was really dragging on; it was winter. It was getting hard to not feel lethargic. Ignoring your body is like being half alive; I wanted to show people how they could transform their minds — at least to get through the next few months — with somatic practices that lead to a new kind of internal attentiveness.

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