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In Performance: Heather Kravas, visions of beauty (COIL)

visions of beauty

Heather Kravas

COIL, Performance Space New York

January 10-13

Described in the program as “punk in attitude, feminist in spirit”, Heather Kravas’s visions of beauty fulfills this promise most unexpectedly, foregoing distorted guitars and raised fists for a tender choreographic minimalism. With an unflinchingly precise and deceptively gentle touch, Kravas’s movement scores use dance foundations as an entry point to expose the implicit labor of form.

Upon entering the space, an ensemble of nine dancers is splayed out in a giant starfish formation, each performer touching another at either the hands or feet. While we do not learn the gender identities of any performers, what we see are one female-bodied dancer and eight male-bodied dancers. The relentless tick of a kitchen timer is amplified through the space. Framed spectacularly by the high ceilings and tall gallery windows of the brand new Performance Space New York, this initial image introduces time, touch, and repetition, the bounds of which are stretched, condensed, and torqued to captivating ends over the series of movements that follow. The ensemble seems to sweat in unison as they move as a tight blob across the floor, gently speaking to one another only when necessary for safety: “give me your weight here” or “my head behind you”. This score is followed by another in which one performer spots the rest as they unwind their naked bodies in a massive spiral, eyes closed. Later on, the ensemble repeats a basic stepping sequence across the floor, periodically and in unison voicing the typically silent counting of repetitions.

All of these actions require intense focus, physical endurance, and vigilant care for self and other. Kravas exposes the realities of these labors, and the result is a powerful anti-aesthetic feminism which frames tender, direct communication and confronts the audience with normalized, oft-hidden labors of everyday existence. Her uses of nudity, touch, and duration create just the right amount of precarity to reveal the stakes of the tasks at hand, and the quality of her confrontation is stalwart. In a cultural moment framed by conversations about consent, sexual assault, police brutality, and acceptance of expansive gender identities, Kravas’s work reaches far beyond the bounds of contemporary minimalist dance. Her questions are bigger: what everyday labors have we normalized in order to survive, and how do they live in our bodies? How can we expose and honor those realities, and tend to one another in the face of our own danger and exhaustion? In Kravas’s proposal, the beauty–not the answers–can emerge where we least expect it, so long as we stay present and keep working.

Photo: Andrea Mohin

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