NOURISH makes for a strange evening.1 It's got hors d'oeuvres, a DJ2, a buffet, all-you-can-imbibe wine, and dancing, all set in a boxy social hall of a room. It's like a wedding reception in an alternate, much improved reality—no one actually gets married, no toasts, no drunk uncles, and all the dancers are beautiful, extremely fit, and know what the hell they're doing.
I can't say I entirely grasp the concept—a union of local dance troupe Lingo dancetheater and five Capitol Hill restaurants on five different nights—but it goes like this: Arrive, commence imbibing, enjoy the ambient music3 and the surprisingly atmospheric space (lovely foyer lounge, gleaming blond hardwood floors, a fantastic frieze featuring roaring lions), gratefully accept appetizers, be first in line for the buffet, eat and drink more, move en masse to one side of the room, watch a short film about the making of the dance performance, then watch the performance itself while finishing the last glass of wine you were smart enough to get.4
(The food on opening night, courtesy of the Century Ballroom Cafe, was sufficiently tasty to warrant future investigation of the cafe itself5—that and the program note saying that the chef used to be Shaquille O'Neal's personal cook. Anyone who's fed Shaq can feed me anytime.6)
I was filled with dread with regard to the dance segment of the evening. I often find modern dance hilarious, which is, for whatever reason, deemed an inappropriate response by modern dance society.7 I once spent 45 minutes staring at a green illuminated "EXIT" sign to keep from laughing aloud at the emphatic jumping about of the renowned Mark Morris Dance Group. To dance aficionados everywhere, I say: Loosen up, oppressors! The film part of NOURISH had me shaking with suppressed laughter; it featured the dancers in the studio, sitting on the floor whilst patting it compulsively, waggling their heads and waving their arms robotically, etc.8 Absurd! Everyone else was rapt.
Luckily, I attained a more philosophical state during the performance itself, perhaps due to the large quantity of food and wine I'd efficiently consumed in a short period of time. The five dancers, clad in pea-green sleeveless shirred tops and chocolate brown pants, each sat in a square of light on the floor patting, waggling, waving, and so forth, sometimes in unison, sometimes not. "What does it portend?" I wondered. "It is not for you to know," the dregs of my glass of wine whispered.While not very conducive to digestion, the dance seemed appropriately metabolic in nature. As the breathy, abstract soundtrack grew more bubbly and clicky, the dancers escaped their squares of light and moved about. Their movements appeared cellular at moments; then they looked like fast-motion footage of plants growing.9 They convulsed en suite in hypnotic fashion; one clutched her stomach, another glowered in a winning way. It was dramatic and mesmerizing and weird and fairly beautiful, and, thankfully, not that long.10
1. But, with all due respect to Ms. Clement, it could have been stranger. There was food, yes, and dance, but no relationship between the two. Not that there should have been—I was a little worried, walking in, that NOURISH was going to be gimmicky—dancers anthropomorphizing cutlery or something. I'm grateful it wasn't.
2. The DJ's name (DJ D-Man) kicked off a conversation about good DJ names. An out-of-towner was impressed by the name DJ Fucking in the Streets. A fellow local liked DJ Pistachio. I'm fond of DJ Salinger.
3. And a Coco Rosie song and DJ D-Man's own unabashed dance moves up in the balcony—he stretched, waved his arms, and pressed himself against the wall like a shadow.
4. Rather, that Ms. Clement was smart enough to get. I envy her foresight. Choreographer KT Niehoff also gave a speech about the inspiration for the event that would have been too long except it gave us time to admire her sparkling eye makeup, pulled-back hairstyle (which, appropriately, looked like a bulb of garlic), and dark blue sneakers with silver mesh on top. I said they were "boss." The out-of-towner preferred "fly."
5. Fried-crab/cream-cheese wontons with a thick chili sauce for appetizers—easily the best food of the night—then cheesy risotto and pizza with hummus (hummus!) on top.
6. Word. According to NBA.com, Shaq's favorite food is chicken. The site doesn't list his favorite preparation.
7. I disagree. More and more dance aims for humor, and some of it succeeds—like The Invisible by Jessica Jobaris, which was happening upstairs at the very same time. I thought I could hear their feet pounding above while I shoveled risotto down my throat. But there is something fundamentally silly about paying money to sit still and watch other people work up a sweat—it's ridiculously luxurious. Are there Marxist dance companies in America? If so, would they sell tickets to a Kentucky coal mine so art patrons could watch laborers sweat? Would there be music? An all-you-can-imbibe wine bar? Would we clap at the end of their shift? Would they think we were the stupidest fucking twits they'd ever seen.
8. There were also two smaller black-and-white projections shot out the windows of cars driving through Seattle and Cleveland. Ohio's GroundWorks Dancetheater commissioned Niehoff to choreograph Tipping Point, the same dance in NOURISH. That night, each company performed Tipping Point in its respective hometown. I wished there had been a video feed from Cleveland on a small, unobtrusive screen so we could check in on how the same piece looked with different people.
9. Or alien pods quaking, about to explode in a cloud of spores. Once they got off the ground, the dancers spent a lot of time bent at the waist, looking ironically like people with painful indigestion. They also crouched, hopped in small, tight spirals, and shook their upper bodies ferociously. It was an athletic performance.
10. And it was a steal—only $18 for food, the aforementioned all-you-can-imbibe wine, and an enjoyable modern dance performance. Incredible.