It really is something when, out of nothing, something appears, trembling to life out of its consciousness or, one might say, out of consciousness itself. This is the stuff of theater, what gives theater its reality, beyond even the reality of the actors’ bodies, which, while certainly real, are almost too real to matter. If the way I’ve put this seems abstract, seeing it isn’t, a fact that energized David Zambrano’s Soul Project, an inspiring dance production that took place at the Walker Art Center May 11th and 12th.
For the entire performance, dancers and audience members intermingled on stage, behind the curtain, pools of light rather than seating arrangements suggesting performance spaces, through which audience members, while generally avoiding them, perhaps in fear of being expected to perform or perhaps in fear of intruding on areas not meant for them, crossed in and out. In fact, though, those pools of light were canards, of the many employed that evening to thwart expectations of when a performance was or was soon to be taking place.
Instead, as the audience moved about the stage, soul music playing as it did throughout the entire show prompting some of us to quietly dance ourselves, the music demanding it, the troupe’s dancers kept in sight, if only peripherally at times, a performance would be signaled on occasion by a sound but more often only by its beginning—that is, through a concentration and intensification of movement, when the dancer suddenly becomes a dancer. Then, a circle would immediately form around the dancer, the audience members closest to the performance sitting on the stage floor so those behind could see, and with a rigorous self-consciousness that was not self-conscious, these disciplined, talented dancers invited us to watch them with the aliveness of their movement.
Furthering the impression that the dances sprung from nowhere was a sense that they were coming into being as the dancer danced, not improvised exactly, even if improvisation accounted for much of what we were seeing. Rather, the dancer followed the dance, at moments as if in surprise, their dances tumbling out of themselves and what-they-are-not, much as the dancers emerged from what they were not. True, the constant becoming of creation is life itself, but it is what we overlook or to which we are deadened until live performance—music, dance, or theater that is truly alive—brings it back into focus, in a constant opening up that is the dance of being.