Students and mentors arrived from far and wide for the third annual Lion’s Jaw Performance + Dance Festival, Oct. 3-8, hosted at Green Street Studios in Cambridge. It’s an event that brings dancers and performance artists together and provides a space in which they can develop their own practice and share movement and insight with each other.
Jared Williams, one of the founders of the event, recounted that it emerged out of many conversations that indicated a need in Boston to move beyond increasing compartmentalization in dance and performance. The philosophy of the program struck me as well: I got the sense that there was an overall counter-hegemonic thrust to the happening, especially with regard to more formalist, mastery-focused dance institutions. Linked with this, I got the sense of a shared pedagogical interest in the explorative and simultaneous introspective/extroverted potentials of the expressive moving body.
The teaching-artists for this year were impressive, and the list is long. ALTERNATIVA, a collaboration of dancer and director Kathleen Hermesdorf and musician Albert Mathias, has been active in San Francisco since 1998. They facilitated a long, intensive session. Kirstie Simson came from Illinois. Her work brings audiences into contact with “the vitality of pure creation in moment after moment of virtuoso improvisation,” according to the Lion’s Jaw website. She also directed an intensive session this year. Students would freely attend these intensive sessions while also attending classes and workshops by other teaching-artists. The other teachers included Laura Larry Arrington, Anya Cloud, Abby Crain, Thomas F. DeFrantz, Heidi Henderson, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Maree Remalia, Peter Schmitz, Lauren Simpson and Jenny Stulberg, Lilly Valore, and Jesse Zaritt.
All of this considered, Lion’s Jaw struck me as a momentous gathering: not only because participants and instructors travelled from as far away as California, Stockholm, and France to work with each other here in Boston, but also because shaping the contours of a safe physical space through collaborative movement in proximity to mentors and peers was clearly something of irreducible importance for the dancers. What I heard at Lion’s Jaw emphasized the exploration of self through movement and collaboration, as well as the pedagogical import of concepts like touch and kinesthesia — knowledge in and of the body moving — as fundamental to the expression-developing practices of modern dancers.
Along with Hassle photographer Omari Spears, I attended a few sessions of the fest. You can check out some of his awesome photos of the artists here.
Lion’s Jaw struck me as dance of the moment. And I don’t mean that in the sense of a “duh, modern dance is modern” type of truism. Rather, it struck me as a dynamic and changing community of mentors and students who come together to share and explore ideas about collaboration and the fulfillment of one’s personal self. It is a space where people engage in deep listening to each other, not only their words but also their movements and bodily energies, as they explore the fundamental role of kinesthetic knowledge in how we can foster togetherness and provide a differently framed space, wherein alternate forms for how ideas like community, race, and gender can be imagined, as the sometimes mystical thing of the body moving unveils what’s really inside and what’s really outside.
The types of dance explored at Lion’s Jaw encourage a whole-bodied, open-eared listening to self, listening to each other, and listening to space; and in a moment when society can sometimes seem like a vice of screens, keeping us immobile as they fill us like balloons to the point of bursting with noise, there is much to be learned from this type of listening. It will dissolve distinctions you never knew were there, and so new games may unfurl.
So, take this as a recommendation: Even if you don’t dance a step — and I hardly feel I do!—take a look and lend an ear to what some of these artists — the teachers and students alike — are doing and saying. Perhaps you’ll find yourself wanting to share the unique sort of energy that you feel here, and might glean from the pictures. And if you become increasingly more curious — or have been curious from the start! — reach out to New Movement Collaborative, and start exploring.
Photo’s by Omari Spears