NEW LONDON — Part of creating a dance piece for David Dorfman is finding a universal that will connect his company of dancers with an audience.
For “A(Way) Out Of My Body,” which will have its world premiere at Connecticut College on February 7 and 8, Dorfman began with the idea of an out-of-body experience.
“I think everyone has them — certain kinds of dreams — like the one where you can’t move, or some frightening dream where you’re flying,” Dorfman explained at his office in early December. “I remember being in a big field — I played baseball as a kid, that was my big thing before dancing — and I would just feel the world is so immense that I didn’t know if I existed. The typical existential moment.”
Shared experience connecting us to one another can make dance accessible — a sometimes disparaged word that he said is “wonderful.”
“Not everyone is going to get the same thing out of a dance or even a play or a piece of music, but I don’t want it to be so cryptic that it is just a constant puzzle. That’s not my goal. I invite all interpretations. I love mystery, but I want it to be available to folks that have never seen a dance or people that have seen a million dances,” said Dorfman, a long-time department chair and professor of Dance at Connecticut College, who founded David Dorfman Dance in 1987.
At 64, Dorfman said he has been reflecting on how his body is holding up as a dancer and his memories of his mentor, Daniel Nagrin, who wrote “How to Dance Forever.”
“I met him in St. Louis when I was 23 and he was 63 and he was doing this evening-length solo concert and I was so amazed at how he was dancing and dropping to his knees and spinning about and doing dramatic stuff,” Dorfman said. “I did a dance with him when he was 90, and was near him just before he died, so this notion of older dancers — Merce Cunningham dancing into his late 80s — has always been a real appeal to me and since I started later, I feel like I’m always catching up.”
The idea of living in a body that might not be capable of doing everything it once could was a concept Dorfman brought to his dancers — did it appeal and could it withstand several years of research?
“Hands flew up because we collaborate on everything in the company, and there was interest, so that’s how it began,” he said. “It began out of a deficit, a wondering, and I think a lot of art comes from the desire to have things more full, more peaceful, more happiness, more triumph, whatever that triumph might be. So there is stumbling, there are cathartic moments, there are epiphanies.”
He said the out-of-body experience also reflected the current politics and the growing nastiness and lack of civility in society, often leading him to ask, “Is this really happening?”
“Also, the global sense of “ism” — racism, white supremacy, anti-immigration, hatefulness of women, and anyone with any other kind of sexual identity, this is not just the United States. It seems to be worldwide and at a time when we should be evolving tremendously, it seems like we’re devolving, so that has been troubling,” he said. I thought by delving of the notion of almost subliminality or liminality, that maybe we could find a new way to combat these ills and find some sense of release and comfort with one another.”
He said he drew inspiration from the dancer and writer Susan Lee Foster’s concept of kinesthetic empathy.
“In our dances we try to model behavior — so if we are literally lifting each other, if we are leaning and getting caught, if we are tenderly touching each other’s skin, if we are listening to one another, if we are having a group dialogue with words and with movement, then if we can do it and be there right in front of you — with all these lights on and total exhaustion because it’s an hour worth of exhausting material — then so can you, and you’re actually doing it with us because you’re here witnessing it right now,” he said.
For this performance, the words trauma and resilience also play key roles.
“Trauma can come from so many different ways, it can be literally from the world or the political situation, it can obviously be a domestic situation, it can be war and post-war situations,” he said.
He said he also tells the story of his mother, who had multiple sclerosis for most of Dorfman’s adult life.
“I’ve always felt that I’ve danced to heal, danced to inspire. One of the things that I say in the monologue is that I thought if I danced a little longer and more rapidly and quickly and just never, never, ever stop then maybe my mom could move with a little more ease,” he said. “In any kind of metaphoric or physical prison, it’s like how do you survive? You survive because there’s hope. Even if you know you’re not getting out, you’re still you and if you choose to think beyond the metaphoric bars, then you can fly.”
Dorfman said the dance company uses spoken text written by the dancers, which adds another layer to the performance.
“I like it because it can contextualize in a different way than pure dance what you are doing. Also the way that we stage it is not the same as a play with dialogue or monologue, I think it has a unique life in the sense of being a part of a dance, part of a physical theatre experience, and some of it can be funny, some of it can be serious,” he said.
The performance is meant to ask questions, start conversations and transport the performers and the audience through a portal into a new place, he said.
“It’s that interaction that I’m striving for — not that we are showing you how great we are and we want you to applaud that greatness. It’s like we want you to sense your connection to us and your personal greatness, not ours, it’s your personal greatness, we’re here to channel you in a way, to bring you up metaphorically on stage,” he said.
David Dorfman Dance’s “A(Way) Out of My Body” will be performed on February 7 at 7:30 p.m. and on February 8 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. at the Martha Myers Studio Theater at Connecticut College. For tickets, go to daviddorfmandance.org