MICHIYAYA Dance is a femme-centric contemporary dance theater company based in New York City whose mission is to produce multidisciplinary performances that inspire and empower women(+) with limitless boundaries. Their newest work, entitled innervisions, is a collaboration/commission with choreographer Wendell Gray II and sculptor Quay Quinn Wolf. The work is an abstract collage of images and feelings, flipping between a minimal, stoic duet and a vibrant, energetic quartet. The movement quality feels both technical and familiar. Dancers acknowledge each other and also revel in their own inner dimensions. Occasionally, a person is heard whispering questions, longings, and sorrows to no one in particular. Scenes are constructed and then vanish suddenly, transitioning from one thought to the next with little leeway or processing time. The work is deep, thoughtful, poetic, and meaningful all while maintaining a post-modern abstract charm that keeps the piece from taking itself too seriously. It is striking to watch, and feels timely as we draw to the end of 2020. The dance world has struggled with how to transition into creating work under the conditions of the pandemic, but innervisions seems to handle it seamlessly. The dancers wear masks and avoid direct contact, but the piece isn't making a huge statement about it. The thematic choices feel related to uncertainty, instability, and inner questioning, but does not overly dramatize that interiority. It feels like a pure sharing of emotional processing, and will certainly hold as time capsule for the highly specific moment that we are occupying right now.
The video for innervisions is followed by a Q&A and talkback with the artistic directors, choreographer, sculptor, and dancers involved on the project. The talkback is almost as important as the work itself. Especially in our current times, it feels vital to hear how other artists are doing - personally, spiritually, and creatively. I found the honesty and resiliency all the artists spoke with to be inspiring. Many of the artists pointed to the pandemic as a singularly uninspiring and even damaging time for their artistic practice. Dancers spoke of feeling outside their bodies, disconnected from their very sense of identity. Artistic directors Anya and Mitsuko Clarke-Verdery posed the question: why is art important right now? The answers given were not sweeping statements of dance's singular importance, but quite simple: artists must create to survive. Art is personal therapy. Creating is the only way through. Everyone spoke of giving themselves permission to own this collective moment of interiority and self-preservation: sometimes, creating just to make yourself feel better is enough. This seems like the most obvious and fundamental purpose of art, but tends to get lost in art spaces that operate at extremely high levels. Work tends to become more intellectual, distancing itself from pure expression. A return to that seems to be a welcome reprieve, and the work produced from such a process still maintains clear thought and intense depth. Returning to purity of feeling, simplicity of thought, and visions of the interior produces complexity beyond what can be manufactured consciously, and innervisions is a clear example of that.
One moment from the talkback that really stuck with me was choreographer Wendell Gray II mentioning that the dancers rehearsed outdoors for the project, which led to some funny interactions with the public. People would ask questions, stop and stare, and on one occasion he mentions people joining. Dance work so often is confined to studio spaces, but it truly is a human experience. Bringing it back into public spaces feels like a reminder of that, and brings us back to the basic connection of movement to feeling. The first image of the piece follows the duet as they quickly move their heads to look around their space. Knowing the piece was rehearsed outside, the image comes alive with what the dancers might be looking at: clouds passing overhead, people running by, birds flitting between trees, sunlight glancing off a rock. These little moments of beauty, feeling, and return to the interior are a beautiful comfort as MICHIYAYA and all of the artists involved bring us back to sensitivity with innervisions.
Watch innervisions on Vimeo through this link: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/annexvolume2
Learn more about MICHIYAYA Dance: https://www.michiyayadance.org/