My goose bumps subsided as the murderer walked away. I looked at the flowers arranged around me on the stage floor. Was this belt of dying wildflowers meant to protect me from the murderous world I was in or was it an offering for my dead body? The murderer had laid the flowers on the periphery of my seated posture—the way you trace the victim’s position at a crime scene—with the same tenderness as when he undressed an audience member earlier on.
The installation in the foyer (rotting fruit and lukewarm meat on display), clown masks, somber light, hard black sound, and the obvious darkness of the title “Murder Dance” did not eliminate space for softness and humor. Instead, the title and subject allowed for other motifs to transpire. For example, sound clips of puffins sat alongside a foreboding rendition of Frank Sinatra’s My Way in the world created by Donovan, Hindi, and Walsh.
They murdered everything. They murdered the audience, themselves, each other, their own dramaturgical spell, and the public’s critical eye. They murdered trash bags, slit them open, and meticulously arranged their guts throughout the four-hour performance.
The main victim was dance. One reoccurring element was a dance phrase that reminded me of lyrical jazz. It was corny. It was dance-y dance. In a poignant duet, an experienced dancer executed the phrase while another—amateur—dancer murdered it by full-heartedly imitating it a few steps behind. In their separate ways, both performers allowed themselves to be consumed by the drama of the phrase, and in the process they killed themselves as dancers. They made themselves vulnerable to ridicule both for having made such phrase (set to ‘She’s Like The Wind’ from Dirty Dancing), having chosen to perform it in a piece on the performance side of the dance-performance spectrum, and for executing it both very well and very poorly.
This world full of trash, flowers, foliage, and booze absorbed the performers all night, as well as a few audience members who stayed for all three rounds of performance. We were involved. We were taught the infamous lyrical dance phrase by a naked murderer and through it we were given the opportunity to murder dance ourselves.
Murders happen out of passion, pride, and insanity. Dance happens for the same reasons. My mind keeps returning to the obsessive way they arranged the trash. It was so full of intention—but of what? I couldn’t say. Can you read a murderer’s mind? Can you understand dance by watching it?
If we can’t understand dance, then at least we can become a part of it. Murder Dance invites us in and invites us to stay. It does not make us comfortable. It does not apologize. It exposes the underbelly of a craft that is endlessly murdered by makers, viewers, and critics alike. There is beauty to the softness of this underbelly, especially when you slit it open.