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Monday, April 19, 2021

Dance review: ‘The Body of the World’ by John Zorn

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Sometimes, reality bumps up against imagination, or at least close to it. Belatedly it struck me that a piece of theater so firmly in the present moment is actually probably less dramatic, no? Perhaps we can do without the distant chorus that God speaks in Last Supper or in St. Joan of Arc (both memorable depictions of how a painting works but less critical of how the scene plays out). A large question mark to ponder, I thought. After all, the most physical work of art is not always the most psychologically involving — but maybe this is very closer to the mark here, about the way each character’s life and death is articulated and revealed, at a moment when each sentence contains the inferences of every other sentence, indeed of every word spoken, in the same moment, invisible words entering the body of the dancer-action or expressed to audiences through his body’s pulse.

The show’s theme is “death and the body,” but the content touches something deeper, I thought, and that something is how the body responds in performance, with all the expression of human emotion that that expression reveals and that allows that emotion to be transformed into art. The body is living: it lives, moves, becomes a concrete image, because it is living. Like it or not, it can and does affect the mind.

The piece’s never-dull, mercurial, endlessly fresh choreography (by Athos Macpherson) uses a dozen figures. The most significant characters are the dancers, who make body language and gesture, both free and choreographed, their own expression — whether violence, like a movement of fury of the stomach-churning pain at the onset of starvation. Or something more suggestive: a certain openness of posture that somehow confers kindness. But there is also an intricate sensibility to this exercise: a free-for-all of dance that sometimes keeps a careful, structured sense of the actions unfolding to express, via a re-entry of a body’s physical laws, the story of the human psyche and the act of living. A body’s core is a tightly woven system, and from this comes a thoughtful, and much-needed meditation on living.

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