Twyla’s work is more challenging than I could have ever imagined. No, you’re not being asked to put your leg behind your head or to whip out thirty-two fouettes or split your legs in the air. Instead, her work forces you to reevaluate your body’s natural weight and tendencies, and to then put these tendencies to use in a very pedestrian, jazz-based technique. Working with the choreography over the course of this semester, I found that I was introduced to a completely new relationship with the floor. Suddenly, my feet were grounded, always stroking, as if my sole purpose in dancing was to create a fossil-like impression in the floor, recording my every movement. This led to greater cohesion between different steps, as this flat weight-bearing unifier connected them all.
Even though it may not be “technically challenging” in the way we normally think of dance (relating to ballet and more classical forms of modern dance), it definitely increased my stamina. Eight Jelly Rolls is virtually non-stop, especially since we had all the dancers performing each jelly roll, not allowing for the breaks that were in the original version. Added to that, the juggling of the many different counts, inversions, retrogrades, etc. made my mind and body work overtime. This intellectual stimulation, I believe, is the key ingredient in what makes Twyla’s work so compelling. It’s not just movement—it’s equations and sentences and rhythm changes and games —it’s the whole world boiled down to a twenty-five minute dance.
Not only do Twyla’s dances consist of worlds, they create them as well. For me, Eight Jelly Rolls created a world, a community (whatever you want to call it), where I was free to explore a new kind of movement, free to make mistakes, even free to get angry. Twyla’s pieces, originally constructed in a utopic studio community, create an environment that encourages learning and forces you to become closer with the other people involved in your exploration. Thus, at the end of this semester, I found that I had a new community whose shared movement experiences made us closer than many other groups of people I’ve encountered. When I injured my knee during the dress rehearsal for the final lecture-demonstration and was unable to perform the next day, I realized that the people surrounding me made me feel safe, even in a time of vulnerability. I truly believe this is because they know me through movement, through kinesthetic interaction, which is so much more soul bearing than these constructed, premeditated sentences I now write on this page, so much more raw than a verbal conversation mediated by forethought.
As cliché as it sounds, dance is life. It’s not performance; it’s not pointed feet and stretched legs. It’s you and me, walking along the street doing the drill, marking the steps of the second jelly roll on the subway platform, dancing, moving, living.