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Heather Olson in Susan Rethorst’s “Behold Bold Sam Dog.” Photo: Johanna Austin.

This weekend, the PClub had its first official out-of-town gig, as part of a marvelous weekend at Bryn Mawr, built around the dances of Susan Rethorst ( I got to write a catalog essay about one of my favorite choreographers. Happiness…).

Saturday was jam packed, beginning with my first time performing a John Cage score.   And in such company. Douglas Dunn, Elizabeth Streb, Ann Waldman and I all did renditions of How to Get Started, working in collaboration with the sound wizard Peter Price. In between and after our Cagean experiments in thinking, there were two Rethorst works: 208 East Broadway Part 5 and Behold Bold Sam Dog. Then those of us who weren’t art-exhausted gathered for a PClub discussion about what it is to look at art, what art asks from its audience, what our expectations are … all of those never-ending questions …

The next day I had the terrific good fortune to lead a writing workshop with the thoughtful and engaging folks of thINKingDANCE, a Philly organization (co-founded by Anna Drozdowski and Lisa Kraus) that exists to develop writing & thinking about dance. Produced in response to Rethorst’s choreography, the excerpts below offer a taste of what this group is up to. I hope there will be many more TD-PC collaborations to come:


Lisa Bardarson
Behold Bold Sam Dog

Behold Bold Sam Dog is not a dance about a dog named Sam. In fact, it’s not  about anything!  I believe it is simply about experiencing how Rethorst builds phrases of precise lines, deconstructs them and then puts them back together again. Shostakovich’s Waltz No. 2 provides a campy backdrop and like the choreography, snippets of this composition are introduced in kaleidoscopic fashion throughout the work.  A Beatles tune is also brought in and I’m not sure why. And maybe that’s the point.  Rethorst’s work is all about her finely crafted movement phrases getting thrown onto the canvas of the stage, Jackson Pollock style.   Wham!  Here’s  a beautifully crafted unison section.  Splat!  It’s the repeating duet motif again.  Kaboom!  The lone jeté woman is back again making me think of a prehistoric raptor looking for its next lunch.  And while I’m not a big fan of Pollock, it’s kind of cool and fun and well, why not?  Why does the art I prefer have to be linear?   Perhaps what Rethorst is offering is a chance to mix it up a little and offer some contrast to the predictability of  time’s transit through space.


Susan Rethorst's "208 East Broadway Part 5." L to R: Jungeun Kim and K.C. Chun-Manning. Photo: Johanna Austin.

Susan Rethorst’s “208 East Broadway Part 5.” L to R: Jungeun Kim and K.C. Chun-Manning. Photo: Johanna Austin.

Ellen Gerdes
208 East Broadway Part 5

Five women.  Poke in the shoulder.  Sideways glance.  Red couch.  Bodies placed on a table.  Silence.  Crash to the floor.  Things strewn about.  Brush of the side of the hand. Reference to Trisha Brown’s Spanish Dance.  Reference to ballroom dance.  Unison gestures on olive green chairs.  Pillows under sweaters.  Ballet barre at the table.  Toss of the arms.  Gasp.  Wooden slats as guns.  Wooden slats as balancing act.  Fashion show of retro sweatshirts.  Squirming, in the light of a lamp.  Backwards walk.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me) plays on repeat. A projection of a park zooms in on a basketball court, where two men stretch against a fence. I’m not sure whether or not we recognize them. Two dancers shuffle around the stage as if wearing high heels, their hands lazily flopping side-to-side. Michelle Stortz presents herself to the audience with a toothy smile and a frozen pose; Jung-eun Kim lifts her thumbs, opens her arms wide, and tosses a ball across her body with her gaze.  They play with touching each other’s hearts. Stortz opens Kim’s arms, gently hugging Kim with just her hands.

There is always cause and effect.  There is only cause and effect.


Kristen Gillette
208 East Broadway Part 5

We enter the through a side stage door. Dancers are lounging on chairs and lying on tables as we sit on the side of the stage. We’re part of the set, hanging out in their living room. At first, we see only four dancers, until one begins removing the cushions from the back of a futon: voila, a fifth dancer appears.


Patricia Graham
Behold Bold Sam Dog

Behold Bold Sam Dog… Women water straw folding saw.

The first time I see this piece I can’t collect my thoughts. I see it again and wonder.

What motivates this movement? Not restlessness, even though it keeps coming and coming. There is so much; yet it doesn’t gush up from a well either. Like the description of enlightenment from Buddhist writings, describing the ineffable by saying what its not.

The six women dance with loose-jointed precision. Their hands are soft, gaze unaffected. Calm and casual, they measure the outline of one another’s shoulders and the narrow space they define comes to life. Rethorst is continually framing and reframing the action and our attention; moving from the personal boundaries of the body out to the skin of the dance. We follow from small to big and back again.

Each moment comes forward to me in immediacy if I can stay on the edge with it. I am in the practice, with the choreographer, of being present.


Kirsten Kaschock
208 East Broadway Part 5

208 East Broadway Part 5 is a well-crafted thing with beguiling moments, gestures that very nearly point to meaning and then don’t.  Absolutely don’t.

In Buddhism, there is a phrase: “the closed hand of the teacher.”  It is used to talk about the withholding that happens in the name of mastery.  Humans are meaning-making creatures.  I can interpret this dance endlessly.  The dancers are Rethorst’s neurons firing; it’s a retelling of No Exit or commentary on rental prices in Manhattan for women seeking rooms of their own.  I can find poetry on shampoo bottles. “Infused with/sea algae extract/and vitamin E” scans beautifully.  Its vowel progression is almost melodic.


Lisa Kraus
Behold Bold Sam Dog

The tremors shaking Jodi Melnick’s delicate frame toss her around a velvety dark space now this way now that, sending her flame-red hair flying. They appear as the readout of a changeable mind, a registration of her desire, her repugnance, her consideration.

This and the other happenings in Susan Rethorst’s Behold Bold Sam Dog read less as a narrative than as a musical kind of framework – Rethorst hits a bunch of tones and qualities with emotional resonance, whether of aching aloneness, dear tenderness or goofy grandiosity. In the course of Behold Bold many sequences recur, changed, amplified or fractured. The dance reads like a careening carousel—we come around again and again, each time on a different horse.


Jodi Melnick in Susan Rethorst's "Behold Bold Sam Dog." Photo: Johanna Austin.

Jodi Melnick in Susan Rethorst’s “Behold Bold Sam Dog.” Photo: Johanna Austin.

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