Soft Signals of Connection

Kate Weare’s “Marksman”. Photo by Keira Chang

Watching Kate Weare’s work, images of wet clay being folded and molded often come to mind, the movement material or the actual piece akin to the malleable fine-grained earth that leave dry red or sage green traces on the hands. Even when presented as a ‘finished’ piece, Weare’s work keeps working, the dance keeps dancing. This is not only due to the live aspect of the art form — the dance never the same from one day to another due to constant spatial, human and temporal changes– but also because of Weare’s inquiry about the myriad of possibilities held within an artwork and the specific qualities of listening and presence that she cultivates with the dancers.

It is not unusual for Weare to source an older work, crack it open, rework it into new material and give it a new direction. In 2014, she revisited her 2008 trio The Light Has Not The Arms to Carry Us for the Music Moves Festival at ODC. She added a third section and named the work Still Life With Avalanche, a title borrowed from the music score. At the time, Weare explained: “I like to refresh my perception of work, choreographically and in other ways, to remind myself that where a given work landed artistically is not the only possibility…there are always more options!”

Similarly, Marksman (2016), presented at ODC Theater next weekend, grew out of an existing work, the trio Unstruck, which Weare had choreographed a year earlier, in 2015. “After building Unstruck, I still felt there was a range of research I craved, but hadn’t managed to access within the material. I tried to create some compositional chaos and looseness with the language we were using for Unstruck, but I hadn’t managed to get that looseness into the very nature of the movement itself,” Weare explained in a conversation over email. “Expanding to a sextet for Marksman allowed me to transfer energy even more loosely between many bodies compositionally. Unstruck contains more of the ‘steel’ and ‘anchor’ and ‘dry-pointing’ end of our movement research and Marksman incorporates this softer world, where things happen to one without much resistance, where one bends and ripples, and softens in response to outside ineluctable forces rather than being willful or resistant and therefore at their mercy.”

A dancer imparts a soft touch on another’s torso, the impact rippling through the receiver’s body. Issues of power and control — Who is in charge? How is one affected by others?- often function as a subtext in Weare’s work. “I think the concept of being shaped by forces beyond oneself — and how one reacts to that input — is at the heart of Marksman,” Weare commented. Exploring shaping and being shaped by our immediate environment, Marksman offers a large palette of touches –from the slightest to the more forceful: “We spent time researching a spectrum of very soft signals of connection, like the feeling of being made of jelly or being transparent or being an actual sea jelly underwater and how a small electric shock — or even just the approach of touch — might feel so enormous to such a soft body.”

Under an exterior impact, the body becomes the site of construction and almost instantaneous dissolution: a form emerges, and often simultaneously morphs into a different shape, organically dissolving, recalling sand mounds being shaped by powerful winds. This fluid chain of subtle physical actions and reactions travels to the whole structure of the piece, which comes to feel like a breathing and living entity. This feeling is accentuated by a strong element of the primordial, conveyed by movements with animalistic and percussive qualities. At some point, dancers bounce on all fours, ringing up some feral qualities, seemingly giving into their animal nature.

To cultivate this breathing and living quality within the work, Weare and the dancers worked on sensations of “listening” as well as “speaking” during the research. “Often in Marksman, the dancers sense each other and their internal cues for action/reaction without looking, though skin, breath, the tiniest of touches, through peripheral awareness, though heat, though emotional change, and they respond within the structure of the choreography with choice-making in the moment.”

From the minute to the enormous, the large range of sensations displayed in Marksman points to Weare’s continuing interest in scale, which she displayed in her recent piece Giant, which was co-commissioned by White Bird and ODC. The harmonious weaving of the infinitesimal and the monumental creates a tension that animates the negative space between two bodies. It is not a mere coincidence that Weare found artistic affinities with visual artist Clifford Ross, whose work bring together “the big forms and the thousands and thousands of details” as Ross recalled in an interview. In Ross’ gigantic photographs of waves taken during hurricanes, tiny drops of water are juxtaposed with the gigantic shape of a wave, both intrinsic elements of the same structure. Ross first saw Weare’s work at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2015 and asked her to participate in his exhibition “Water | Waves | Wood” at BRIC in Brooklyn. Weare recalls “Those pieces of his were somehow earthy and pristinely elegant all at once and there was something fascinating about the way they interacted with my movement material. We were intrigued and decided to collaborate in earnest.” Ross created the set of Marksman, including a backdrop that is slowly revealed throughout the piece.

Weare cultivates risk taking and venture into unfamiliar territories, whether it is through collaborating with makers from other fields or delving into other dance forms. This summer she collaborated with Esteban Moreno, artistic director of Union Tanguera in Lyon, France, to create Sin Salida/In Love I Broke Beyond, colliding contemporary dance with tango. While working on Marksman, Weare practiced a different kind of seeing, which she called “ a sort of blurred vision,” looking at dancers beyond their individuality, as pure forms: “I usually deal with dancers from a highly individualist stance. In Marksman, I blurred my eyes and allowed myself to think more of what their energies or energetic bodies had to offer, beyond gender, personality, point of view, etc. I was thinking about them in terms of physicality — density, energy, form, how linear or sharp or amoeba-like their physicality could venture, where they held tension in their bodies, where they were soft and open or fluid, what made them crackle and come alive and heighten their tension, what made them exhale and relax.”

Looking at the biological and physical structures within the body, Marksman also draws from Weare’s personal experience of witnessing the power of nature and external forces over her own body: “When I was exploring the physical world of Marksman I had recently gone through pregnancy and birth. Those experiences undid any illusions I had about control and the efficacy of will or willfulness. Up until I experienced giving birth — nature acting through me so irrevocably — I still thought that if I tried hard enough I could shape my reality. Dancers practice a lordly control over their own bodies, and we often feel such potency within ourselves, so perhaps we can be forgiven this illusion of will. Once you go through birth, though, no such feeling remains… at least for me it didn’t. I understood fully, viscerally, how little my will mattered and how much I was shaped by nature. Marksman is me reckoning with that experience, maybe even mourning it as a loss of innocence or shedding of illusion. That one is being shaped while we believe we are shaping… there is something in this that I wanted to make visible in Marksman.”