NEW YORK: University Settlement, Lower East Side, 184 Eldridge Street
July 1, 2013: „Life and Death and the Space in Between“ – choreography: Apollonia Holzer, Music: On the Nature of Daylight, Max Richter; performed by Apollonia Holzer and Marcia-Elizabeth Thompson
Copyright: Blue Line Productions
My first experience with Apollonia was when I was an 11-year-old girl enrolled in ballet class twice a week and frustrated with the physical limitations of my out and my relevé.
My mother brought me with her to a pilates session on 9th street and 7th avenue in Park Slope, and after spending some time in the entrance of the room filling out my fractions work sheets, I looked up to see my mom and the red-haired instructor beckoning me over to the squishy mats. “Your mom tells me you like to dance,” the woman said to me with an accent I later learned was German, and she beamed when I confirmed. She then helped me feel a sense of strength and stability in the stylized movements I’d learned in ballet. “Release your hip; spiral out; feel it coming all the way down your body and out”. That transformed them into something utterly natural and human. She then told me to lie on the cushioned table while she “felt my body rhythm.” Our bodies, I’ve deduced from Apollonia’s “body work,” want to be in a balanced and harmonious state congruous with the rhythm of the universe at large.
In early July, when Apollonia invited me to see her perform a piece she’d choreographed, I quickly worked my schedule around the date; I realized that although we’d discussed dance and choreography for so many years I’d never actually seen her work. I brought two friends with me, and as we walked up to the second floor of University Settlement on the Lower East Side we were immediately greeted with the quirky energy of the “Performance Party Fundraiser.” The room was set up with chairs for the audience, which were markedly claimed by cardigans and denim jackets as the toddlers, the put together family, the eccentric friends, and the neon clad dancers with feather boas roamed the space sipping pineapple infused vodka cocktails and breaking out a hip shaking move in jest every once in a while in the spirit of the occasion. The guests began to take their seats as Aaron Draper, one of the founders of Banana Peel Dance, an arts collective of dancers, musicians, actors and improv comedians, introduced the program for the evening. Draper explained this was a benefit party to raise money for Banana Peel Dance to partake in the summer residency program with Philadelphia based White Pines Productions and that the evening should flow as an enjoyable gathering studded with performances by both members of the company and various guest artists. The Banana Peel pieces were wildly entertaining; there was concept, technique, and no one took them selves too seriously. The program opened with possessed, synchronized movements accompanied with sporadic exclamations such as “oh my” in a piece called “The Something Effect” (2007) in which one felt as if they were watching fun individuals who usually were full of spunk and rhythm, but were caught at the wee hours of the morning in a nightclub and now could only trace through the motions of their boogie-woogie to Billie Jean (performed live with the piece by Mauricio Alexander).
The dancer’s fluorescent tutus, legwarmers, and sequined hats transformed from the tired leftovers of the opening dance to purposeful comedic attire as the dancers performed an excerpt from “Carotene Jive” a comedic piece in which each dancer enters with a vegetable in her mouth whipping out some jazzy moves to Harry Connick Jr’s Loft Soufflé, until the last dancer saunters front and center with a hostess cupcake. She catches the attention of all the dancing raw veganists and provokes them to attack. The variety upheld throughout the night featuring fiddle and banjo musical interludes, more traditional movement concerned dances, and Apollonia’s piece.
Apollonia has done bodywork with Kim Almquist, the other half of the founding team of Banana Peel Dance, and became close with her through their shared interest in the Body as an expressive outlet. Kim asked Apollonia to perform her piece at the benefit Party and it was a beautiful and fitting addition to the program. Apollonia, however, is not just another liberal arts school graduate with and MFA who has scouted a place for herself in the New York art scene. She has had a very different background. Her first path was that of a nun. Although she realized life working in a convent was not her calling, Apollonia continues to weave her spirituality through her work and her life. The piece Apollonia choreographed and danced that night was called “Life and Death and the Space in Between.” At the heart of the piece is the idea that life and death are not separate, but occupy the same space simultaneously. One of the greatest roles of religion is to reconcile the reality of death and find comfort in our seemingly fleeting lives. Apollonia explained to me that when we separate, that is when we are afraid – when we separate life from death, our spirit from our bodies, or ourselves from others. Conveying a sense of unity, Apollonia created a dance with two dancers: herself and Marcia-Elizabeth Thompson, who moved almost as one – prompting and reacting to one another. Wearing wide, flowing, cream colored pants, and neutral bandeau tops corresponding to their Skin colors, the two women interlocked their bodies and whatever it is we can attribute to the inner most essence of a human: soul, spirit, heart, or mind. Apollonia stood behind Marcia-Elizabeth for the entirety of the piece shadowing and guiding her at once. Most dances are judged upon good choices of movement: well timed moments of tension and contrast, juxtaposed positions, and articulate steps. “Life and Death and the Space in Between” seemed to be composed of elements and gestures that were that expressed the only natural way to move at the time. I did not find myself trying to dissect Apollonia’s artistic choices in any analytic or critical way because I was so moved by the Sentiment behind every wrapping of the hand and swaying of the arm and could only conclude they were absolutely necessary – choreographed by something outside of Apollonia. The control used to move in the consistent, slow, and strong manner that characterized the piece was incredible. Apollonia was not just employing an exercise in mirroring movement, as some dance classes have you do, but she was utterly aware of Marcia- Elizabeth’s space and energy. The dancers toyed with the idea of separating momentarily: one woman arching back while the other reached forward – letting go of each other’s hands for a fleeting heart beat, but would quickly reconvene to their sense of wholeness. The dance concluded with an onset of deeper round movements. One half of the pair lay on the ground as the other looked up to towards the stage light. As the audience began to applause they walked in separate directions.
As the pieces unraveling before me I saw Apollonia explore the same theme of nonduality, articulated so brilliantly in eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism. In certain of these philosophies day is not the opposite night, I am no different than you, humans are not separate from Gods, and death is not an end but a shift in one’s state of enlightenment. In the convent, Apollonia said she would teach theater and dance to children, often feeling as if artistic expression was of more religious merit than prayer or ritual. In many non-western cultures dance is not an isolated entity – experience merely on stage and finished when exiting the theater – but it is rather an integral part of life. In these cultures dance goes beyond the realm of entertainment, or even that of personal expression, to enable communities to make sense of life on a metaphysical level: “The artists inner vision resembles that state of mystical bliss called brahmananda; it is an experience of the whole, the universal, where the individual ego and subjective emotions are transcended, the distinctions of physical time and space are erased, and the finite and infinite merge.” (India: History of Indian Dance) I got a taste of this approach to dance at the performance benefit party that night as dances unfolded organically and casually within the same space as the audience, creating a social and close environment. The space in between the performances was just as important as the performances themselves and the separation were not delineated. The title of Apollonia’s piece addresses the issues of finding solace amidst grief and making sense of death, but it can go on to be interpreted in reconciling anything that is seemingly opposite. Apollonia being white and Marcia-Elizabeth black, carries a racial message if one chooses to see it. Prejudices seem difficult to fathom as Apollonia and Marcia- Elizabeth showed us how close we all really are to one another. We are all human, dealing with the emotions of life and death, and moving as one.