SHEBOYGAN, Wis. — To describe what happened last Tuesday evening feels a little like a betrayal of trust. I was one of two audience members for an episode of Nichole Canuso Dance Company’s Being/With: Home — available through March 14 via limited digital engagements presented by the John Michael Kohler Arts Center and the Bates Dance Festival (Lewiston, Maine).
That wasn’t a typo. Each performance is a pas de deux between strangers. It’s not a duet, exactly; an apter characterization would be a guided conversation, facilitated by Nic, our off-screen docent giving instructions as I talked, moved and mused with my partner Allison for about an hour.
The first several minutes of Being/With is spent on logistics, setting up Zoom for optimal viewing, gathering three objects that hold meaning to us and making sure you have your phone, in case anything goes wrong.
After a year spent on Zoom, I still find myself resistant to digital performances. And by nature, it is easy and unnoticeable to be a passive interloper, or to simply not go. Not so here. Allison depended on me to be there, as I did her. If either had bowed out, the “show” could have not happened.
So, I put on hard pants, combed my hair and set up my computer, gathered my three momentos and logged in for what turned out to be a fleeting, beautiful interaction with a stranger. Being/With calls to the forefront something deeply lacking in pandemic life: meeting new people. But even before COVID drew us into our physical and psychological bubbles, few if any social experiences are truly novel and transitory any more. I don’t know Allison’s last name. I don’t know where she lives. We aren’t friends on social media. But she’s seen a sliver of my life and I hers. It feels necessary that this happened at home, in private, though iterations of Being/With were intended to take place elsewhere. For this critic, self-consciousness surely would have presided over that experience, unlike this one, which was comfortable and compassionate every step of the way.
I’m being vague by design, but I’ll say this: Being/With: Home is worth doing. I say “doing” because it’s not something you can simply watch. Participants’ cameras are on. You’re prompted to share and ask questions. While there’s a spectrum of possibilities in how you engage physically, you will feel compelled to dance with your partner. I certainly did.
Being/With:Home continues through March 14 via the Bates Dance Festival. Reservations are $15. To participate in a duet, visit https://www.batesdancefestival.org/upcoming-events/.
Header photo by Johanna Austin