Namely, Muscles
The Ark at Duke University
Saturday, Oct. 4

“Muscles are not much different than poems. They both move you,” recited Dr. Kate Trammell, a dance professor at James Madison University and an anatomy faculty member at Cedar Stone School of Massage, as she performed Claire Porter’s Namely, Muscles at Duke. Having learned under Porter herself, Trammell ensured that her adaptation stuck to the script but found freedom in small choreographic changes.

In a piece that employed just the right amount of slapstick humor to tickle one’s “punny bones,” Trammell deftly turned an anatomy lesson into an entertaining dance demonstration. Namely, Muscles is a comedic dance-theater blend where Trammell plays Dr. Nickie Nom, a Forensic Orthopedic Autopsy Muscular Anatomical Surgical Specialist whose dance reflected the poetic script and portrayed 68 major muscles. Modern dance vocabulary and yoga manifested throughout the piece, with a musical segment that showcased folksy clogging sequences.

“Muscles can only pull or be pulled. They cannot push,” Trammell stated confidently. She went on to elaborate that muscles often work in pairs, known as agonists and antagonists, to generate movement. An agonist, the main muscle in this process, contracts, while an antagonist is the opposite relaxing muscle. If one were to do a sit-up, for example, the abs would act as an agonist while the lower back would act as an antagonist. She ended the segment with an impressive run of consecutive cartwheels in her slightly heeled shoes.

There were several highlights, including the “Headless Hamstring Trio” and “PIatysma-Charisma” segments. Trammell surprised during the hamstring segment, when background dancers erupted from the audience to perform leg-emphasizing choreography. With her feet flat on the ground and hamstrings at work, Trammell was able to sharply maneuver around the others while sliding on her back. “Platysma” refers to a lower facial and neck muscle that is used when the face elongates in fear responses. Trammell accentuated the connection between Platysma muscles and charisma by speaking with a deliberately overdone British accent with rounded vowels.

The most stunning segment featured the Rectus abdominus muscle, or abs. Having strong core muscles is vital for a good dancer, and Trammell proved to be excellent in this case. Displaying her knack for yoga, she peppered the routine with several Downward-Facing Dog variations. The segmented ended with her going from lying down under a chair to sitting comfortably in it; what was remarkable was that nowhere in between was she standing vertically. Through snake-like movements, she was able to sinuously wrap herself around parts of the chair, limb by limb, and climb up.

In the concluding dance segment, Trammell briskly summarized the anatomical vocabulary that she had mentioned in the previous poems with their respective movements. Her ability to recite poetry while working up a sweat translated to a high-energy performance.

Employing humor, mnemonics and muscle memory, Namely, Muscles presents itself as a fine educational model. While it mainly appeals to a kinesthetic approach, where people learn through practice, watching the dance and hearing the poetry made the piece accessible for verbal and visual learners.

Dr. Glen White of Duke University’s Cognitive Neuroscience department spoke positively about dance, citing the knowledge one gains through movement and improved spatial awareness. Science students who learn dance moves gain physical awareness of their muscles; dance students gain knowledge of the muscle parts. This delicate balance between interacting muscles was a common theme in the piece. It’s a point that can be extrapolated: For society to progress, it takes two sides coming together in harmony, rather than being driven apart in opposition.