Whim W’Him’s Choreographic Shindig VI is a collection of two filmed dance pieces (Elsewhere and Grassville) that both touch on similar subjects. Confinement, isolation, and our relationship with technology and nature are addressed in both pieces, albeit in vastly different ways.
Elsewhere by Mike Tyus & Madison Olandt begins with dancers in a bleak warehouse, their faces covered, as they leap across the concrete floor, trying to escape from whatever it is that’s trapping them. As the piece goes on, they hold TV screens in front of each other’s faces, showing the faces of other dancers on each other’s bodies. The dance is brilliantly choreographed and the use of the TV heads conjures familiar images of video conferences with rows and rows of disembodied heads in boxes on a screen. The imagery becomes more striking as it transitions from television screen to a field, where the dancers look around—at first confused, and then relieved, as they fall into a pile on the beach and soon end up back in the warehouse. The dancers move with incredible precision and in perfect time with each other—it’s clear this piece has a message to convey, and the dancers execute it brilliantly. While we once used television screens and the online world as a form of escapism from the real world, now that we’re forced to be onscreen and are forbidden from even so much as stepping within six feet of other people, it’s the outside world that seems like a novelty. The message is clear and thought-provoking.
The same cannot be said about Grassville by Anabelle Lopez Ochoa. The brief description accompanying the piece mentioned it was about connection to nature and reconnecting with each other, but this isn’t clear from anything in the houseplant-brandishing choreography. You watch in anticipation for something to click and the message to suddenly make sense—but it never does. Something about the piece feels incomplete, like it desperately wanted to go somewhere profound but wasn’t quite sure how to do it.
Despite the unclear message, the dancers are phenomenal. Wearing houseplant headdresses designed by Mark Zappone, they leap and twirl through a stark white house that feels like something you’d see in a dream. The choreography is as bold and striking as Elsewhere, and the dancers move in such perfect time with each other that it’s like watching one person. Grassville teeters on the line between self-aware humor and raging pretentiousness, but the dancers alone make up for the mediocre through-line. The bizarre camera angles and shaky shots don’t do them justice.
Elsewhere fully embraces the reality of the world we’re living in right now and takes advantage of the opportunity to perform a dance on film. The special effects, cuts, and transition between warehouse and shore would have been impossible to convey effectively in front of a live audience. Part of where Grassville fails is that it doesn’t do this. Grassville immediately stands out as something that should have been performed on a stage. It feels forced and strange on camera, which takes away from the message that choreographer Ochoa was trying to convey—connecting with nature and adapting during a pandemic.
Choreographic Shindig VI is intended to be two pieces about the pandemic. Elsewhere is so obviously about the pandemic that it’s clear even without reading the synopsis. Grassville, on the other hand, could have been about anything. A houseplant rebellion? Not watering your plants? Maybe the real message of Choreographic Shindig VI is that I need more heavy-handed symbolism.
Choreographic Shindig VI premiered online in September 2020 and is available to stream on the Whim W’Him website.