Dancer in the dark
Nicole LeGette shifts into a heightened sense of awareness.
Arguably Chicago’s most dedicated practitioner of Butoh—a radical dance form that has roots in late 1940s Japan, flowered there in the ’60s and continues to evolve internationally—Nicole LeGette is known for her powerful, emotionally raw performances. “People might not realize it, but my work is actually very political,” LeGette says. By “political,” she’s not talking about Obama versus McCain, but about our cultural values and the way humans express themselves: “Our society values the biggest, loudest, fastest, flashiest, strongest, most aggressive [things],” she says. “I hope we can harness the explosive dynamic energy of groups of people and channel it in another direction, rather than a frenzy of sports events [and] political rallies.”
LeGette’s way of bucking the trend is by using dance to explore how her powers of perception and receptivity can be refined and developed. This is in opposition to the conventional approaches in which dancers work toward predetermined performance goals in strength, speed and form. “I want to discover more subtle, more nuanced, more perceptive levels [of ability]. It requires a different kind of discipline, focus, dedication and practice.”
During a research period for her new work, Landscapes of Uncertainty, premiering Wednesday 8, she read more than 50 books on disability, sensory perception and philosophy—including works of fiction related to her exploration of the senses and human abilities. Having won a generous grant from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, LeGette studied Butoh in Japan during April and May.
Perhaps because of her own experience (she’s needed glasses since she was four years old), LeGette has a special interest in visual perception, or lack thereof, and how it affects the body in motion. “We’re a visually based, text-based society,” she says. “We take in information primarily through our eyes, our intellect and our verbal brain. That’s fine, but as humans we have an amazing range of [other] senses—how do we use them on a daily basis and can we expand this range?”
In order to delve even deeper into this question, LeGette hopes to create choreography with visually impaired people, whose access to the dominant visual channel of modern culture is limited. “Vision impairment is an invitation to shift focus to other levels of sensitivity and receptivity,” she says. But LeGette adds that she needs more time to interrogate her own motivation: “I don’t want to re-create [unnecessary] power structures.”
For now, Landscapes of Uncertainty is primarily a solo for LeGette organized into six episodes, with cameo roles for two other dancers. “In many ways, I see this piece as one of what will be several realizations of this specific focus I have right now,” she says. “When you set an intention and embark on a process, it takes you on some really long and winding roads.”
Perceive Landscapes of Uncertainty at ROOMS in Pilsen through October 11.