A+A Dance Company: Don’t Get Any Ideas, Little Lady
The Fruit, Durham
There are usually ways in which a modern dance work is trying to fool you. Sealed on a proscenium stage, it seems to descend from untroubled ether, weave its spell for an hour or so, and then disperse as deceptively lightly as it came.
But in Don’t Get Any Ideas, Little Lady, Allie Pfeffer and Alyssa Noble—the friends at the heart of A+A Dance Company—want to let the seams show, from the trials of funding and emotional labor around a staged work to the intersecting threads of privilege and oppression that stitch it together. At its core, the evening-length piece, whose premiere at The Fruit this weekend closes the Durham Independent Dance Artists season, is about the experience of misogyny and gender discrimination. But if it succeeds, by evening’s end, the social structure supporting this core—and the viewer’s place in it—will be just as evident, perhaps painfully so.
“Gender discrimination was our way in, but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, separate from race or class or politics,” Noble says.
“‘Femme-phobia’ is the term we’ve been using,” Pfeffer says, picking up the thread—the two have a way of completing each other’s thoughts. “All of the little insidious ways that, when something is coded as feminine, it’s lesser-than or weaker. That opens up more freedom to explore, because it’s not necessarily misogyny if a cis man who’s gay is experiencing discrimination.”
Originally, they wanted to work only with women, but they realized the risk of reinforcing dichotomies they wanted to dismantle.
“How do you criticize hyper-masculinity without upholding the binary?” Pfeffer asks. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with masculinity or femininity. We aren’t here to bash things. We’re trying to bring attention and disrupt power systems.”
This expansion of the concept befits a cast that includes people who use masculine and gender-neutral pronouns as well as those who use feminine ones, like the company’s leaders—a cast that is being asked to place its own traumatic stories on stage, particularly in a climactic section in which, after vignettes approach the issue through various social lenses, performers dance their own movements to audio recordings of themselves speaking about their experiences.
“We’re not making trauma porn. We had someone with stories coming up from childhood that felt too hard, and we were like, ‘Cool, don’t tell those stories if you don’t feel ready and it doesn’t feel useful to you,’” Noble says. “The stories we’re telling are triggering for all of us, so we’re trying to be really protective of [the dancers’] energy.”
To acknowledge that traumatic experiences are not entertainment, the show ends with a breathing exercise during which dancers and viewers alike can process before the lights come up. A program note will specifically direct audience members not to ask the performers about their stories—which range from “micro-aggressions to things on a grand scale,” Noble says—after the show, which will also eschew the usual talkback session.
“We want our performers to feel safe sharing very vulnerable things. What we don’t want is for people to come and bounce what they feel off a marginalized person, making them do the emotional labor of reassuring them they’re a good person,” Pfeffer says.
The performers are Pfeffer, Noble, JV Alencar, George Barrett, Beth Fajardo, and Chris Strauss. The music is by Jess Dilday (DJ PlayPlay) and Rook Grubbs (Vaughn Aed), with lighting design by Lisa Suzanne Turner and costumes by Pfeffer. This cast represents a range of artistic backgrounds as well as gender experiences. Pfeffer and Noble didn’t strictly want people with modern dance backgrounds, like them (Pfeffer studied it at New York University, Noble at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign). They wound up with performers specializing in capoeira, ballet, street dance, and more. This toolkit was invaluable for a show in which modern dance is made to criticize itself for its unexamined biases and its inscrutability to those who aren’t trained in its language—which is to say, most people.
“There’s beautiful movement, but we’re using that movement vocabulary because of all the lineage it holds, whether that’s around privilege or general accessibility,” Noble says.
“Does Durham need another strictly modern dance show?” Pfeffer wonders. “It’s our medium, but there’s a lot wrapped up in American modern dance. So there are sections where we’re saying, hey, this movement vocabulary has historically taken up a lot of space for intersecting power reasons, trying to name that and be accountable for it.”
In another effort to displace some emotional labor from the performers to the audience, the show will be accompanied by a zine and a lobby installation that includes simple but revealing activities. For example, on the way in, you might be asked to color places on the outline of a body that you’ve touched or been touched by a stranger without consent, and then you’ll see the results of this anonymous self-reporting on the way out.
“[The zine] is sort of radical feminism 101, because that’s another accessibility issue,” Pfeffer says. “If you’re not having these conversations, it might just be because you don’t have the vocabulary for it.”
Pfeffer and Noble seem like lifelong friends, though they hadn’t known each other long when they started working together three years ago. They premiered their first full-length show, What You Want, in the 2017 DIDA season, followed by a Tobacco Road Dance Productions show.
“We have this beautiful, emotional, vulnerable friendship that systematically is called weak,” Noble says. “I feel so grateful to have an artistic partner with whom I can excavate these things. That feels in direct resistance to narratives about women.”
Perhaps it’s this that will uniquely allow Pfeffer and Noble to disturb the entrenched power structures of modern dance, extending the space they hold for each other to their collaborators and audience.
“We’ve tried to be really unapologetic and honest about producing the show, including trying to call out the ways crowd-funding is unsustainable,” Noble says. “This show is a grand gesture to try to push this conversation to happen in a loud, unapologetic way.”
Support independent journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.