Kate Weare Company: Marksman
Wednesday, June 22, 2016
Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham

Kate Weare’s Marksman, an American Dance Festival commission that premiered at Reynolds Theater last week, is a molded and folded dance. The six dancers act as architects: They build houses, live in them, and vacate. They sculpt their bodies into notches for others to push and pull through. A bent leg folds perfectly over a crouched back; an arm pierces the negative space between other limbs. The performers greet one another in undulations; they unfurl and then halt. Eventually they part, dissipating.

Most often the sextet moves in duets and trios, as if helplessly yoked into relation. The piece is most effective, and most affecting, when all dancers share the stage. You can hear their breathing as they burrow within competing rhythms—figuratively, as they vacillate between individual quirks and group coherence, and literally, as they exhaust themselves. (At one point, I had trouble discerning whether the heavy sound of inhaling came from the dancers or from Curtis Robert Macdonald’s instrumental score.)

In a way, Marksman is a piece about automatic phenomena like respiration—how we can notice, and then channel, habitual rhythms to achieve a skill or task. The piece draws from Zen in the Art of Archery, German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel’s account of learning Japanese bow marksmanship. In the full-group scene, the marksman of the title assumes the shape of one breathing body, working to hit the mark.

Weare’s company recently celebrated its tenth anniversary. Her first work at ADF was in 2010, when the quartet Bridge of Sighs shared a bill with Monica Bill Barnes’s confetti-strewn Another Parade. (Audiences may remember one duet in Sighs that had no sound save for the slaps reverberating off each dancer’s body.) All members of the original ensemble—except Douglas Gillespie, now assistant director—have since turned over.

This new group is beginning to find the groove created by its combined presence. All are accomplished movers, adept at bearing one another’s weight and shifting in precise diagonals. But sometimes the dancers’ focus on physically ​mastering ​the ​movement made it hard to detect the emotional intention behind it. The most compelling moments were gentle, simple, even pedestrian, as when the dancers lined up in two rows at stage right and performed a series of slow, mesmerizing trust falls.

Marksman is less an unyielding dance than one interested in locating and prodding its own outlines. This is appropriate, considering its title. There would be some dissonance if it were titled, say, Bullseye. That would be too conclusive for a piece that avoids pointed narrative and resolution. The company will take Marksman to the Joyce Theater in New York in November: more time, then, to find the work’s Zen.