I arrive and the structure is already in motion. This is a drill. The dancers sway and march and try to keep a beat between them. Exactness hovers like a promise, electrifying the space, galvanizing four individuals towards a common goal. Bodies, separate, become one body, together. They pause, rest, recalibrate. Today, Martita Abril (CORPS cast) winds a hip and shimmies both shoulders. Dorothy Dubrule (CORPS cast) puts both hands on her head, then on her hips, walks in a circle.
Ayano Elson (CORPS cast) sits down. Annabella Vidrio (UMS intern and guest dancer) records something on a laptop and rejoins the group. Other bodies filled the formation on other days: Josie Bettman (guest dancer/artist) was here, and Tara Sheena (guest dancer/artist). Milka, with notebook in hand, dictates the day’s tasks in a voice halfway between drill sergeant and dance captain.
The day’s tasks: four dancers are practicing togetherness, creating a precise complexity, preparing a hivemind of distinct intelligences. Language, literal and embodied, emerges between and around them. They know some things I don’t. On the projection screen at one end of the studio are the words they’re echoing in syncopated canon.
SOMETIMES WORDS ARE THE WORST
SOMETIMES WORDS ARE JUST
SOMETIMES WORDS ARE THE COURAGE
TO THINK THE COURAGE
TOO MUCH TOO MUCH
repeat after me:
point point counterpoint
mark time, go.
(step right, left, etc.)
a clicking sound
piling up piling up piling up (counting thrice on fingers)
far off place
movements ancillary to movement
to hold one’s place to hold the rhythm
“I got off.”
like pins in fabric, rank-markers, bright bars
codified lines lines lines insignia
or ropes to pull on so the flag flails back towards
you and catches the wind again
catches the rhythm
syn co pay shun
fatigued edge, the beat, the pace
the strain and shear of one too many
where the choreography of mentally marking thin and thick
how do you count up to catch it? downbeat—
how do you march and bend your knees?
number accent math iambic stress
“Where do you guys take your breaths?”
“It’s all triplets, except for certain ones.”
Pain is temporary- push through
“I’m gonna call some things.
From grid— go—”
“If i’m throwing you in, I’m thinking—”
“I thought you said half-left,
The gas is on
You look scared
“Freeze or hold? Would the gas is on
still go? That’s good—”
“Crispy? Yeah. Golden brown.”
“Maybe I’ll try some face stuff?”
“I wonder if it’s a record scratch—”
“Let’s try a round of marking time.”
drill-calling fatigue: leaders forgetting possibilities
the choices given are smaller when those in power
when the steps are fewer
mark time go
the group is tired
yes head go. blah!
left face go
what can they do?
thinking hard, I see it in their faces
left face go
left face go
but push through. endurance, stress of world-making,
what practice prepares us for
what structure, implied or concrete, constructed
who are you while you
go mark time
left face go
who are you together, a body
gah! watch you burn
you look scared
synchronous-asynchronous corpse corps
new kind of virtuosity, or oldest in the book
recognizable language, then—
let it change
what happens, when?
variables, beats, lines: together
apart— a part of a whole
rhythmic impulse to same
to same to same
hard things that look hard
hard things that look easy
easy things that look hard
start again from the beginning
CORPS is shorthand for a delicate balance of regiment and agency. CORPS looks like disparate bodies deployed as a synchronous unit, constituting a provisional togetherness. CORPS sounds like a surreal cheerleading practice or an ROTC sergeant’s lucid dream. The structure, directed at first by the choreographer’s outside eye, grows and shifts, moving as a differentiated body of bodies.
After the dancers leave, Milka and I discuss the performance. Theoretically, Milka doesn’t sit on the outside and call the maneuvers as she did in rehearsal; the dancers, manifesting and questioning the choreography, will make the movement calls themselves. The structure will become self-perpetuating. There’s something here about how community functions and the stakes of joining in: beyond the surrender to stepping in time lies the promise of emergent agreements and organic decision-making. Individuals will materialize, asserting themselves between the lines marched in unison.
Dot Armstrong is Minnesota-born and Brooklyn-based. Dot currently explores the limits of performance with/for ChristinaNoel and the Creature, Spacejunk Dance, and Thea Little. Dot is a founding member of Futile Gestures, a performance collective/nonsense repository. Their choreographic work has appeared at The Dance Collective, Artefix NYC, Green Space, and HATCH Performance Series. Dot contributes to Culturebot as a performance reviewer/archivist/observer. They trained at the American Dance Festival, Movement Research, the Martha Graham School, and Joffrey Ballet Chicago and graduated summa cum laude from the University of Iowa with degrees in Dance Performance (BFA) and English (BA).
Photos by Maria Baranova