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Terence Dick
Intersections in Dance at Xpace
August 16, 2017

We like to think of dancing as revolutionary, liberating, and democratic. We paraphrase Emma Goldman and proclaim, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution!” Or we quote another radical and declare, “Free your mind… and your ass will follow.” Overall, we uphold moving to the music as a means of challenging the status quo, celebrating spontaneity, and experiencing freedom – if only for an evening. Which is all well and good, but there is a repressive, regimented, and disciplinary side to dance that instils uniformity, conformity, and obedience. The strength of Xpace’s current exhibition, Intersections in Dance, curated by Victoria Mohr-Blakeney, is that it highlights both ends of this spectrum within its modest purview.

Danièle Dennis, tek ah jump, 2017, two-channel video

Ella Cooper’s photographs of gravity-defying Black female bodies provide a straightforward account of how dance can be both physically and politically uplifting. Her subjects’ joy is apparent in their expressions and it represents an assertion of agency. This dance comes from within, whereas the celebratory rituals evoked in Danièle Dennis’ video tek ah jump are social and more complex. She is never completely seen in this two-channel work, but she relays her interactions with passers-by in the streets of Philadelphia as she attempts to initiate a one-woman carnival in tribute to her memories of Toronto’s wildly popular Caribana festival. There is a stark contrast between the polite but reticent denizens of this American city (they claim they can’t dance) and the artist’s enthusiastic invitations, her sparkling body paint, and the energetic music that signals the temporary inversion of power that generally defines the carnivalesque. There is also a tinge of melancholy here, highlighted by Dennis’ isolation and distance from the people around her. They apologize to each other as she sets up her camera and then she dances by herself. Her performance has more to do with solace and connecting with her identity, than with getting the party started. A similar assertion and claim on public space is made by jes sachse in their Instagram videos (Find@squirrelofmystery), which are credited as part of the exhibition but can be found online. In them they turn public space into a stage for sachse to occupy, express their frustrations as a disabled person, and experience a sense of freedom that isn’t often found in the everyday world.

Daria Blum, I am ready, 2017, video

The repressive power of that everyday world is mapped out on a dense grid in Allanah Vokes’ drawing Salute to Our Armed Services Ball: The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America. By tracing the paths of dancers’ noses and identifying each political figure by a different colour, she creates a chaotic jumble of lines that hints at the complexity of relationships that reinforce the ruling elite. Among other things, the dance she graphs is a performance of power – be it military or financial. Anyone with a passing familiarity with history will understand that control is imposed symbolically as well as physically. A microcosm of that discipline is enacted by Daria Blum in her video’s seemingly endless series of nausea-inducing pirouettes. Ballet, the highest of the high arts is also the most restrictive, and Blum plays up its sadism while also acknowledging the necessity of repetition, effort, and instruction. The beauty of dance should not be denied even when it is reached through the mantra “no pain, no gain.” Free expression can occur through order as often as ecstasy, which brings this exhibition full circle in one final pirouette.

Intersections in Dance continues until August 26.

Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.



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