Contingent Ballet Review: We All Are
January 13, 2021 | Digital
The word “contingent” is both an adjective and a noun.
As a descriptor, something is “contingent” if it is dependent on something else or happens on account of unforeseen causes. As a thing, a “contingent” is a group of people united by a common feature.
In both senses of the word, Contingent Ballet describes Silken Kelly’s vision of creating a platform for a group of artists commonly united in their desire to perform in the midst of the otherwise unforeseeable COVID-19 pandemic.
As you know, if you have read my other contributions to The Ballet Herald, I feel strongly that one positive thing that has come to the world of dance as a result of the pandemic is the accessibility of new capsule performances to audiences all over the world. These performances are examples of the kind of creativity and adaptation that, in the words of Emily Speed, are “born out of the struggles of COVID as an opportunity for us to continue to do the art form we love.”
Online productions open up the world of ballet and dance to an ever broadening and non-traditional audience. We All Are also highlights how cinematography can combine with dance to invite an audience into the art and connect it with the movement and story in a much different way than when the viewer is forced to observe dance from only the one angle of a traditional concert hall.
Contingent Ballet: We All Are Trailer
We All Are, which was produced by Silken Kelly and debuted online on December 29, 2020, combines the performance talents of Kelly, Emily Speed, and Jonatan Lujan and the choreography of Melody Mennite, a principal with Houston Ballet. As described by all involved with this production, We All Are took shape over Zoom, was rehearsed in a bubble at a studio in the Dallas suburbs, and was filmed at MATCH in Midtown Houston.
The performance itself is minimalistic – the blank canvas of the MATCH black box and utilitarian costuming allow Mennite to highlight the dancers themselves. Her choreography was inspired by “constraints placed upon people, and wanting to accept how each individual truly is.”
Limited props – one necktie and two skirts – and a soundtrack that ranges from modern and electronic to classic and melodic, help convey this message of progression.
There is a surface-level narrative of Kelly, Speed, and Lujan, respectively, first taking on and then shedding gender identities represented by the skirts and necktie. Mennite’s choreography, however, portrays the dancers as neither gender neutral nor asexual. Kelly and Speed exude a graceful femininity that is complimented by Lujan’s masculinity. Conversely, the ladies’ strength and athleticism are also supported by Lujan’s more tender and subtle movements.
In my opinion, We All Are portrays us not as homogenous or fluid, but asserts that we all have complex and often contradictory aspects to our identities and personalities that can coexist in balance if we allow ourselves to recognize, engage with, and accept them within ourselves and those around us.
Rather than obfuscate the differences between the dancers, the choreography and cinematography challenge the viewer to appreciate their bundle of individual, collective, feminine, and masculine talents, traits, and emotions from an intimate vantage point.
The performance can also be seen through the current events lens that we all share – our experiences throughout the global pandemic.
In the commentary that accompanies the online performance, Mennite shares that her work was also inspired by the many challenges that have affected the arts and artists over the past year, including the very tangible physical restrictions on movement that have forced dancers to find new ways to express themselves.
Kelly and Speed also highlight how this virus left them not knowing when they would be able to perform again, and this opportunity to create with Contingent Ballet made them realize how thankful they are for their art form.
The progression depicted in the choreography can also be interpreted as a depiction of the dancers’ freedom of expression and the joy provided by ridding themselves of the shackles that have impacted all of us for nearly twelve months.
Everyone might not enjoy consuming arts online subject to the confines of their mobile device or laptop, and online capsule performances are not a replacement for coming together as a community in a theater, but I applaud artists like Silken Kelly for making the effort to extend opportunities to dancers and reinterpret how dance can be presented to both seasoned audiences and those that are new to the arts.
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