Look who's talking
Margi Cole finds her voice.
Bumwad is what architects call a yellowish-brown tracing paper that’s bought by the roll. A sharp pencil point in a heavy hand will rip right through it, destroying hours spent painstakingly copying the filigreed twists of a stair railing or widow’s walk. In works like her 2006 septet Reminiscent Of, choreographer Margi Cole always showed this kind of gently focused touch: She’d have her dancers trace a loose knot of patterns through space, both with their limbs and the threads of connection between them. At the time, her dances reminded us of CocoRosie’s fragile pop; a more current reference might be Avatar’s “love jellyfish” drifting on mild gusts in the skies of Pandora.
In 13, which Cole premiered last January, the soft dynamics vanished. The dancers’ movement, and frequent walking, was plain and pedestrian. Reminiscent’s diaphanous, pastel garments were replaced by off-the-rack streetwear, and, in the greatest departure, Cole’s bold voice came booming in on top of the action, reciting text she’d written into a “God mike” from backstage. 13’s nine dancers also talked, thinking aloud and conversing among themselves. Cole blames Bay Area dance-theater whiz Joe Goode, whose company last visited Chicago in 2007.
“The whole idea of talking onstage was always such scary territory for me,” Cole says, “but when I got to know Joe Goode and his work, I really started to understand how you could use text and dance together to look the audience in the eye and tell a story. I’ve been delving into that territory because I’m afraid of it.”
A colleague’s assignment contributed to her verbal investigations. After spending much of 2008 in recovery from a serious knee injury and subsequent surgery, she commissioned a bespoke solo by fellow dance maker Liz Burritt to celebrate her return to performing. She was fully aware of what she was getting herself into. “I knew, because of [Burritt’s] history in the land of dance, that I was probably going to end up speaking onstage. And I was terrified.” Cole explains that her new piece IMe, created in collaboration with Jeff Hancock, has helped her efforts to develop a feel for text as a choreographic ingredient.
Talking through a dance piece “is something the Chicago dance community has seen inside itself,” Cole says. “Right now, my peer group is really surfing in this area, and, I would even be so bold as to say, many of my colleagues are much braver and more facile in this area than I am. I feel like I’m behind—I’ve posed this to myself as a challenge I need to tackle.”
As doggedly as Cole is pursuing confidence that she can manipulate spoken English as deftly as she can a cascade of bodies to the floor, she hasn’t discarded her interest in pure movement: In Taking Hold, an ensemble-generated dance that prods our compulsion to accumulate objects for answers about sentimentality and attachment, no one says a word.
The Dance COLEctive brings “Meet Me There” to the Ruth Page Center for the Arts Thursday 28–Saturday 30.