Going from Atlanta Ballet’s Silver Linings livestream last weekend to Core Dance’s in person event Saturday evening at The B-Complex was like going from foie gras to black-eyed peas. Both were full of nutrients and flavor, but represented opposite ends of the dance spectrum in technique, vocabulary, production and intent.
No Time to Lose is the latest outgrowth of Core Dance’s insistence that dance artists need to create, COVID or no COVID. The title works on two levels: no time to lose while creating the work and, more importantly, no time to lose when facing racial injustice, the recent mass shootings and the threat of loss from the pandemic.
In keeping with artistic director Sue Schroeder’s philosophy, the process of creating the hourlong work was as much the intent as its social justice message. She challenged artists from around the world to come together and create it in just 12 days. The result was amazing for its complexity and impact. At least part of the process was made tangible Saturday by sheets of paper taped to one wall of the space, each with a handwritten description of a movement or theme.
The size and openness of the performance space with its 25-foot-high ceiling and 140-foot-wide wall of windows was perfect for social distancing. The sparse audience sat in wooden chairs that were spaced out around the circumference. Only 10 people were permitted entry at each of the three performances, and we all had to acknowledge a waiver releasing Core Dance of any responsibility should we get infected by COVID while attending.
Aside from video projections that were marvelously huge on the clerestory windows and brick walls, the production was relatively low tech. Sure, composer/musician Christian Meyer, who provided the score, was livestreamed via Zoom from his studio in Berlin, but there was no customized tent or special stage, no imported marley flooring over the concrete. Flattened cardboard boxes served as a dance surface; at one point the dancers lifted them to create a temporary video screen. Huge balls of scrunched white plastic hung from the ceiling and long, slender tree branches became props. The artists carried portable lights to wherever they were needed.
Halfway through, several dancers wheeled out a wooden cart that looked like something out of a Faulkner novel and pulled off a heavy, rusted metal chain. At the end, they dragged it up the ramp and placed it on the floor in a circle like a crown of thorns. It lay beneath a banner inscribed with the word “Listen” and several names — including George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, names now seared into society’s consciousness.
The technique and vocabulary in No Time to Lose included walking, swinging, running and shifting weight in rocking motions, all inspired by postmodern pioneer Anna Halprin’s philosophy of kinesthetic movement. Schroeder made walking and brushing motions with her fingers on the floor. Others followed suit.
The evening began with Benji Stevenson’s solo. A small, slender dancer wearing baggy overalls, the movement was loose, thoughtful, introspective. Stevenson was soon joined by Walter Apps. The two curled up alongside each other on the floor, but far enough apart to honor distancing. It was the beginning of a series of movement choruses that reached a crescendo, then ended suddenly as the music stopped temporarily mid-performance.
The aerial portion of the work was brilliant. Solid and muscular, Shawny Evans / Humlao used the cable to mime a noose around his neck, then swung in the equipment as if trapped by it. In contrast, Keith Hennessy and Adam Larsen swung freely, demonstrating the three-dimensional beauty of the technique — and perhaps the freedom of being White.
Spoken-word artist Marcus Montgomery recited a poem while sitting on a large red chair. Elizabeth Labbe-Webb, who uses a wheelchair, was among the rapt and responsive performers clustered around him. Apps punctuated the brief breaks in the recitation with flurries of tap rhythms. Yes, he had changed into tap shoes. The acoustics of the space, and the fact that Montgomery was wearing a mask (all performers did), made it difficult to understand the words, but some were clear: “We, not me” and “State of the union, we need reunion.”
Toward the end of the performance, Schroeder beckoned audience members to follow the performers up a ramp. The dancers gave each of us a small potted plant and a handwritten poem as we exited. Mine was an excerpt from a well-known Mary Oliver poem that includes the lines: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body / Love what it loves.”
No Time to Lose worked because it showcased an ensemble of artists who use their animal bodies without fuss or adornment and clearly love what they do. They came across as committed, authentic, intense and persistent, with a message that cannot be ignored. It’s unlikely the work will be performed the same way again — improvisation is a Core Dance hallmark — making it a powerful reminder of how important live dance is. No streamed event or YouTube video can match its potency in the moment.