Momentum Brings Water Study to Life
As a professor of modern dance, Delma Iles has a deep knowledge of dance history and the repertory she has created for her ensemble, Momentum Dance Company, reflects a reverence for the modern dance greats. Momentum closed the six-week Miami Dance Festival with a performance of both new and older works from the company’s repertory, giving a broad view of Iles’ choreographic style alongside a presentation of a historic Doris Humphrey piece called Water Study. Water Study outshone all of Iles’ original choreography. It was a truly stunning piece, never mind that it was first presented in 1928. Almost a century later, Momentum’s rendition of this classic piece felt like a form of truth, perfectly tuned to the body’s rhythms and the movement of the elements in space. At the same time, it was a living piece of history, encapsulating the aesthetic moment of Art Deco, the jazz age, and the moment when ballet began to fall from its pedestal. Humphrey’s work was revolutionary in its time. She was among the second generation of Modern dance innovators and, as she wrote in her autobiography, “suddenly the dance, the Sleeping Beauty, so long reclining in her dainty bed, had risen up with a devouring desire.” Ballet often denies the body’s natural forms, but in Water Study, the body is animated gently from within, by the breath. Inside a profound silence, we only heard the whooshing of the dancers’ conspicuous breathing, and the sound of their bodies landing heavily or lightly on the stage. There was no music, nothing to interrupt or distract. In her own choreography, Iles’ dancers struggled with both the pacing and the poses. It was a miracle to see how easily and elegantly they all fell into rhythm for Water Study. The opportunity to see a historical work is rare, wonderful, and immeasurably valuable. Dance is above all a living form, and that undefinable something, the magic, gets lost when it is translated into video. Because Water Study is so much about the body, and the experience of silence, it is particularly resistant to documentation. The physical bodies in motion allow us to enter into the presence of dance, and to tune ourselves to the dancers. Sometimes they are our surrogates, they dance for us, and in Water Study it was a blissful, raw experience. Iles has done a great service in presenting Humphrey’s work onstage. Inevitably Water Study is different in 2011 than it would have in 1928. It is shaking no foundations, and none of the aesthetics were as shocking as they must have originally been. But still, this work speaks profoundly. The simplicity of Humphrey’s choreography, and the pacing of the movement seemed inextricably linked to nature, which hasn’t changed much. Silence, perhaps, is harder to come by now than it was then.