REVIEW: “antithesis: Dance Place Practice” by Gesel Mason Performance Projects at Dance Place

Gesel Mason Performance Projects
antithesis: Dance Place Practice
By Taryn Brown

When I see a great dance show, I leave wanting to take class, stage a rehearsal, or scan local listings for auditions. The invigoration from seeing inspirational choreography and performances is immediately coopted by my brain and body. After Gesel Mason Performance Projects’ antithesis: Dance Place Practice, I was moved in such a way, but with added immediate intellectual and emotional fervor.

Inspired by Audre Lorde’s essay, “Uses of the Erotic,” Mason has created a multilayered juxtaposition of erotic identity that deconstructs sexuality and sensuality within the context of dance composition and presentation. The title explains that the audience will see a “practice” of events. The practice included intimate duets, pole dance feats, spoken internal monologues, full-bodied movement phrases, and an overall sharing of surrendering.

What makes women attractive? Is it their hair down, flowery smell, large breasts, curvy bottom, eye contact, or…mental capacity for spreadsheets? From a standard male gaze we might insist it to be all of the above, except the Excel capability. In the world of antithesis it can be all of these things and even more. It can be the very essence of honest communication between humans that exemplifies their erotic nature.

The experience of watching people dare to care about each other in front of an audience opened up spaces for an equal connection to everyone in the shared proscenium arena. It allowed for the capability to see the sexy in everyone. As well, the sexy became something simpler. The sexy became pure energy, beauty, and radiance as defined by the human capacity to open up so fully so that others are allowed insight into their physicalized thoughts and feelings.

One of the most delightful things about antithesis was the interwoven experimental structure. The preshow preview featured a lap dance (done in both a standard strip club way as well as in a contact improv modern dance manner), impressive burlesque routines, pole pieces, paneled projections, and site specific work in the lobby. The show itself flowed seamlessly from section to section with a sound score that emphasized nightclub music and electronic rhythm. There was one interjection of an “Ave Maria” aria from Otello though, which created an adagio peak within the diagram of the sequential scenes.

The aforementioned “Ave Maria” section was a highlight that included small jumps, energy flowing and winding through the body, and precarious balances. There were impactful moments where the dancers opened their mouths as if to swallow an essence of “yes” from their surroundings, as well as “reach and miss” movements with arms swinging into empty space. The pinnacle of this part was when golden lights spread across the marley floor where the ensemble laid while a soloist reached the top of the isolated dancing pole.

Similar picturesque moments were found scattered throughout the evening. They included the silhouetted emergence of Ching-I Chang Bigelow from behind a large screen. Bigelow’s silhouette was reminiscent of an old burlesque trick of seduction, which surprisingly turned into aggressive struggle of flinging hair and balancing between two chairs. Another portion that stuck with me was when performers took turns telling what they were candidly thinking and asking unabashed questions about identity and relationships. Last but not least was the extremely powerful solo by Gesel Mason herself, in which she graciously shared a deep finding of Eros by tapping into her essential creative energy through a personalized movement manifestation.

antithesis: Dance Place Practice was hands-down one of the most remarkable shows I’ve seen in quite some time. When Mason told us to “forget the nonsense categories” and that there would be “no more questions as to what it is we are doing here,” I listened. I let myself trust her words, which explained that the highly capable professionals would “make erotic into the practice…as an open capacity for joy.”

I’m ready to take the message to heart and figure out where I too can successfully fit the erotic into my creative process, as well as my daily life. I agree that we need to fit it into our lives and manifest the power it contains. Sexual energy is creative energy and how artists (and all people) navigate through this energy determines positive communication and change. As Gesel Mason stated at the end of this marvelous performance achievement, I too will “let this be the beginning.”