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Kelly Bond’s performance piece Elephant is running at the Fall Fringe this weekend. She premiered the piece at Capital Fringe this summer and it was enough of a hit that the organizers asked her (and nine others) to show it again in this minifestival.
There’s something cool about the fact that the piece is being recognized around town as a high-quality work that’s worth seeing. D.C.’s arts scene has definitely grown in the past few years, and local painters, videographers, and musicians doing original work are being noticed, thanks in part to the Pink Line party trend and museums’ after hours shindigs. It’s beginning to feel like kind of an artsy city.
But good dance isn’t yet getting the kind of recognition I’d like. Sure, there are dancers who perform at various events, but the bar, at this point, is pretty low—and therefore so is the quality. Is it that dance is still so unusual that just about anything is viewed as intriguing? Or has modern dance become a language that most people can’t speak or understand, and therefore they don’t know what they’re seeing?
I’m not sure, but I do know that the lack of informed observers hasn’t benefited the city’s dance scene. There are a bunch of small companies around town, but not many that are creating truly fresh work that’s also good, and even fewer that seem to be putting the time and thought and rigor into the process that Bond did to develop Elephant. She estimates having spent nine months focused on the 50-minute piece, and had to be willing throughout the process to stay open to what worked, rather than simply adhering to her original idea.
The piece had begun as an exploration of memory, “but as we worked,” she explained, “we found that the material we were generating from exercises was about something else.” Abandoning the initial concept wasn’t easy, “but I don’t think the piece started being really successful till we let go [of the early ideas] and let it go in a different direction.”
During our interview, Bond mentioned in passing that she had danced for Ed Tyler several years ago, and I realized afterwards that the devotion to process she had described put me in mind of Tyler, an area dancer, choreographer, and teacher who died four years ago this week. I think just about everyone who knew Tyler or his work agreed that he stood head and shoulders (and belly button, probably) above other dancers in the region. His ideas were that much more sophisticated, and his dedication to art—not to seeming like an artist, or to churning out productions on a regular basis, but to creating something transcendent—was unique.
His death was a huge loss for Washington’s dance scene. So it’s exciting to see Bond moving forward with a similar combination of unorthodox ideas and commitment to quality. Apparently, her next project aims to build dialogue around contemporary art. If that means raising standards of what’s viewed as “good” in the modern dance/performance art/dance theater realm, I say bring it on.