The relationship between man and woman is a nuanced struggle for a balance of power. It is messy, exhausting and incredibly difficult to express. Yet, on March 9th, 2017, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater communicated this struggle and engaged in a dynamic battle of the sexes at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
"Deep," choreographed by Mauro Bigonzetti, revitalized girl power, and in this one galvanizing moment, set the tone for the entire evening; women were seen springing up and gluing their perfectly straight, pointed legs around men's hips. Slowly, men walked, holding their partners, whose bodies were parallel to the floor. The men then bent backwards at the knees in a very Matrix-like manner, defying gravity. As the women planted their feet on the ground, the men grasped onto the women's thighs. One by one, the men collapsed to the ground under the women's open stances. Then, women's revenge! They stepped on to the prone men's chests, reclaiming their superiority and control before walking off stage together. Just the women. The men were left abandoned. Maybe dead.
This startling moment necessitated Bigonzetti's "Deep" as much as it did the Ailey evening, which began with three women dancing harmoniously to English-Yoruban (a language spoken in West Africa) fusion alternative electronic music. Repeatedly one of the dancers tried to escape from the synchronized movement, but each time, the other performers pulled her back into their coordinated status quo. Legs that stretched like rubber bands and elegant, flowy lifts defined the women. The connection between partners felt powerful. However, laced in between the beauty were symbols of manipulation and domestic violence. The female performers kept trying to flee from the men's tight grips, sometimes shaking fearfully in the process, but were pulled back each time. The men covered the mouths and eyes of their female partners, and dragged the women's limp bodies off stage. Warm embraces became traps and affectionate touches became controlling. Conventional gestures of love were horribly warped.
At the end of "Deep," the dancer who initially tried to escape the status quo succeeded. She gradually walked forward, and snapped into a hanging Christ figure position with her head down, as if someone lifted a string attached to her back. Then, like a puppet whose strings are cut, she collapsed to the floor into a fetal position. The woman was left alone, vulnerable and defeated. One could feel her pain, her weakness, her battle scars. The lights went out.
Balancing power is a painful process. The powerful ending sequence, along with the rest of the piece, highlighted the serious damage rape culture and domestic violence can do to women. The black costumes, scarce lighting, and eerie music paired with the dancing created an underworld that sadly exists.
How cruel is it that star swimmers, professional football players, and celebrities can assault women and face minor repercussions? It's hard to remain optimistic in a society that does not forcibly condemn this behavior. In the documentary "The Hunting Ground," directed by Kirby Dick and available for streaming on Netflix, college sexual assault survivors come forward and share their stories, few of which have been reported or addressed by their respective universities. How can women feel comfortable in environments which fail to acknowledge these issues and fix them?
At certain points watching "Deep," if you are like me, you actively want to change what is being shown on stage. But through the aesthetically pleasing dancing, "Deep" enchants and lures one into paying attention; it repeatedly pulls one back in. I felt mentally exhausted and discombobulated when the final curtain descended, just like the woman who collapsed to the floor.
You want to make a change. You want peace. You want justice.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performed at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion March 8-10th. For more information, visit www.musiccenter.org/ailey.
Contact contributor Jenna Permut at firstname.lastname@example.org