Other People Dancing: Benjamin Kimitch’s work in progress

On the breezy evening of July 19th, RCC berries Julia, Sarah, and myself curiously arrived at Brooklyn Arts Exchange for an in-progress showing of new work by Benjamin Kimitch. We were all looking forward to seeing what Ben had been up to with dancers Julie McMillan and Claire Westby since we had last seen his work in an academic setting.

What we weren’t prepared for was how deeply Ben would take us into his artistic process. It is a rare thing for a choreographer to lead you through the evolution of their thoughts step-by-step, providing visual aids, anecdotes, and rehearsal experiences as context for considering their work. Rare, but incredibly rewarding. From a Chinese dance and laser show spectacular, to an M.I.A. music video, to ancient cave paintings, to cityscape photographs eerily devoid of people, to a passage from Artaud, I felt like I was taking a vacation from my own analytical head, only to dive into Ben’s. Once Claire and Julie began their demonstration of material, I felt I had an immediate context and understanding of their movement, which only increased my interest in the dense yet tender nature of their duets.

And then there was that word: duet. Ben’s work here was so refreshing because he somehow managed to have two dancers moving together without  any of the trappings of a”duet.” It was more like they were both part of the same person, affecting the space and time around them as well as one another with the same energy one might use in pursuing two separate trains of thought. Their movements were layered and intricate; their journeys through space, pleasantly strange. The dancers’ downcast eyes represented a distinct artistic choice (Ben stressed this non-confrontational aspect of Chinese traditional dance) rather than a performance habit. It was fascinating to see the bones of a dance, already sculpted and polished so extensively, without the larger form of a “piece.”

I was further intrigued by Ben’s self-proclaimed struggle with the task of creating an environment in which an audience might begin to consider and meditate on a theme (in this case, loss). This difficulty is one that all dance-makers face at different times and in different ways, and one ideal outcome was articulated on the back of my program: “A real stage play upsets our sensual tranquility, releases our repressed subconscious, drives us to a kind of potential rebellion (since it retains its full value only if it remains potential), calling for a difficult heroic attitude on the part of the assembled groups.” [Antonin Artaud’s The Theater and its Double, Calder, 1993]

Ben’s longtime collaborator, Matthew-Flory Meade, is developing an original score for the work’s premier in 2013. A few recordings from the group’s time at Kaatsbaan were played alongside bits of choreography, and I was struck by how sparse the music, with its lone, resonant piano notes, was in comparison with the incredible complexity of the dancing. A second in-progress showing will take place on Saturday, October 13th at 6pm in the newly renovated New York Live Arts studios. You better bet I’ll be there!

Words: Liz Montgomery

Dancing: Julie McMillan and Claire Westby for Benjamin Kimitch