Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Missing Generation - Sean Dorsey Dance

The idea of having survivors of the 1980s AIDS/HIV epidemic telling the stories of those who died, is a relevant and an important idea for history. The sheer number of people who succumbed to AIDS before any medical treatment was available is staggering and must be remembered rather than forgotten. Choreographer Sean Dorsey was driven to document and share these stories as his creative art. Dorsey is paying homage to those who died from AIDS as well as all those people who survived but were forever changed by living through a time when their friends, lovers, and family members died without any treatment or understanding of why this was happening.

The Missing Generation is a monumental dedication to remembering.

The East Coast Premiere of San Francisco choreographer Sean Dorsey's work was presented in Maine at the Bates Dance Festival on July 16 and 18th. The evening length work had beautiful dancing with powerful oral histories recorded and told by real survivors. The program started out with Dorsey dancing in a pool of light- he struggled, contorted and moved with jerks and spasms. He's the person with AIDS that is infected. A voice over of a survivor states that she has blocked out memories of that time in order to keep moving forward. Whoa. We immediately know we are in for some heavy stuff. The dancing by the four-member company was impressively executed. The sound track started off with cello and somber sounds while the ensemble weaved an interconnection of supported lifts and balances for each other that represented in many different ways the idea that "I'm holding you up." We heard other survivors speaking as the dancers continued to move with grace and tenderness. Dorsey spells out in a voice over narration how the evening will progress, "I am asking you to tell your story -I am ready to listen I am here for you." It's an invitation that we want to know what happened we won't forget, you don't have to remain silent. Then many vignettes were presented representing various people who lived and died of AIDS and what the culture of those decades were like. The dancers spoke, then the voice overs continued throughout as Dorsey used many devices to make sure we learn about the people that died- that we don't forget.

Dancing to the oral histories was problematic for me. I think the movement, although it didn't mimic the words, suffered from competition for our attention with the words. Was the movement enacting or just embracing the text? This was distracting for me. The spoken stories with the dancers moving to the words made me get into a more educational mindset rather than an emotional mode. I was not fully drawn into the piece as I had assumed I would. I thought since I lived in New York City in the 1980s and had lost loved ones from AIDS, I believed that seeing Dorsey's take on the epidemic would leave me awash with emotions. But, strangely, it fell short of transforming my seeing into feeling and didn't allow me to get into a deeper sense of sadness and loss. I much preferred when the dancers moved to the musical only parts of the score, or when a few times the oral stories were told without movement by the dancers. That being said, the overall dance was quite beautiful and daunting. And I am sure many members of the audience would disagree with me and I know many people were deeply touched by the dance. The audience gave a standing ovation that was long, loud and genuine.

Exquisite ensemble dance throughout the show with exceptional dancing by Dorsey along with company members Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones, and Nol Simonse. Dorsey has a lot to say and puts a lot of effort into his work. His dedication to preserving the history of the LGBTQ community is timely and necessary.

The Missing Generation at the Bates Dance Festival in Lewiston, Maine.

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