"Intimacy plays a present role in II. Liminal, a piece of collaborative choreography designed by Jessi Barber for her company Everything All At Once.
This is a dance about the space between things, about ritual as a site of transcendence, failure, escape. The piece starts with a swishing, hushing sound coming from a dancer moving slowly across the stage, a crossroad painted over her eye, hands rubbing together, an announcement that something is being constructed. There is a sense of play in this moment that doesn’t show up as fiercely in the rest of the piece, which suggested notes of:
cleaning, stabbing, ear lobes, spirit guides
the kind of loneliness that wants not
to be lonely, tapping, swinging, macbeth,
a desire for things to change, shapes (again an echo)
that are soft, bellies, books, the sound of coffeemakers,
the character at the beginning of Aladdin who says
“a far away place.”
Liminality is a term that came to us through the anthropological study of ritual and so it is difficult to watch this piece without peering through that lens, thinking about how ritual is something we do to give structure and meaning to what otherwise often feels structureless and meaningless. We achieve ritual with varying degrees of success. We are able to convince ourselves that we have something that grounds us, feet rooted -- and then we are completely taken aback, bowled over, stabbing ourselves in the belly like one dancer does, repenting, feeling that everything is wrong and nothing at all can be controlled.
The movements of the dancers continuously toy with this interchange between stability and lack of control. The dancers begin and end in highly composed structural shots, at first engaging in the same movement -- feet grounded deeply into the floor, arms flailing wild, as if blown by some unnavigable wind.
There is a vocabulary of anxious gestures here. In this show that features only female bodies, I think about the gender our society assigns to anxiety. But the anxiety is different in II. Liminal; it’s woven with a wind that moves through the piece, a sense of yearning, struggle, and change, that the dancers show as deeply felt. One taps, pounds on her cheekbones, and in her face we see pain. Another imitates a motion that looks like typing, another claps her hands, an arm shoots up.
All of the moments together hint at a reaching for comfort or resolve. In this piece, there is maybe the pain of too much thought.
The first unison-like moment in the piece is near the beginning; the dancers find themselves in a diagonal line, feet rooted, arms flailing. The structure in this moment comes and goes throughout the piece, the flailing of arms softens, changes, then leaves and returns again. The movements signifying anxiety leave and then return. Someone looks under a rock, there is more sureness of movement, some contact between the dancers that suggests comfort, and then there they are, flailing, peeling away at themselves again.
Maybe the most significant and powerful moment of structure occurs when one of the dancers finds herself shoulder on the floor, legs up at a diagonal in the air, stepping from the hip of one dancer to the hip of the other, as each moves to put herself in place like a mobile stair. This structure, like ritual, is necessary to allow the dancer in the center to walk at all in that position, but it is also unsound. The center of it doesn’t hold. It’s imperfect, it is made of flesh, it is just a hip, it’s always moving.
And then again, at the end of the piece, structure and its untenability: the dancers staring into the audience, turning us into the ritual they’re witnessing, hips rooted to the ground and nothing else, a posture that is impossible to hold, like sea creatures watching, undulating, trying to live in what’s in between."