Adam Rose’s ‘Against Being’ is a Dance About Nothing

“Well, we haven’t talked about philosophy,” said Adam Rose, when asked, “Is there anything else?” toward the end of our interview about his latest work, Against Being. Rose premieres Against Being, what he calls a “dance about nothing,” at Links Hall culminating a year of research and movement investigation supported by a 2014 Lab Artist Grant from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF). As Rose pulled two books from his bag, David Bourland’s To Be or Not and Heidegger’s Metaphysics, it was clear that he is not making a simple dance about love, and likely never will.

In his first year at Antioch College in Yellow Spring, OH, Adam Rose took an interdisciplinary seminar called “Embodied Minds, Thinking Bodies,” combining dance, psychology, and biology. Rose, a Columbus native, had always been curious about dance growing up; though his background is primarily in music, Rose’s sister danced. “I got more and more interested in it, I think because… I didn’t think I could do it,” said Rose.

Rose developed a rapport with the dance professor during his semester of “Embodied Minds, Thinking Bodies,” and graduated from Antioch with a dance degree despite having no prior formal training. Almost immediately, Rose came to Chicago and collaborated on a few various projects with Chicago-based dancemakers Julie Mayo and Ginger Krebs, but quickly realized his interest was in solo performance. “I didn’t want people to see me in other things,” he said. “I started Antibody almost immediately when I got here.” Founded in 2009, Antibody Corporation is the non-profit organization housing Rose’s artistic endeavors, spanning multiple genres including dance, sound/music, performance art, film, and writing.

'Against Being' | photo credit: Antibody Corporation
‘Against Being’ | photo credit: Antibody Corporation

The multi-disciplinary nature of Rose’s work sometimes places him between artistic communities. Rose, who prefers to avoid labelling himself strictly as a choreographer or a performance artist, simply pursues his interests, and has benefitted from associating across genres. “Performance art came out of visual art, and it has a certain understanding of the body… that is more grounded in visual aesthetics. Dancers have been thinking and using their bodies for a long time and definitely have something unique to contribute. There’s a lot of crossover between dance and performance art… to the purest, it’s gotten really confusing…” said Rose. Thus, Antibody Corp. is not a “dance company,” per se, but maintains that the body is the center of everything he does.

Now tasked with producing a new work supported by a $15,000 CDF Lab Artist Grant, the goal of Against Being, moreover the overarching philosophical mission of Antibody Corp., is to uncover gaps between dichotomous societal constructs. What is the gap between culture and economics, time and space, or, as in Against Being, language and dance? “It’s something you sense, but you don’t have a name for it,” said Rose. “Between a name for the thing, and the thing itself, is the body.”

Rather, it’s several bodies; Eryka Dellenbach, Brooke Underwood and Rose play with different casting arrangements in a semi-structured improvisation, the stuff of which is decided in the moment during each performance. So, Against Being audience members will never see the same show twice. Dellenbach, who performed a sample from her magnetic solo section called Hand, Hand, Hands, said that though decisions are being spontaneously constructed by the performers, audience members will recognize Against Being as a quintessential Adam Rose work.

“Dance is non-semantic communication,” said Rose. “It’s impossible to create 1:1 correspondence between movement and meaning.” So, by that logic, one could say that all dance is about nothing until we attach a meaning to it through language such as program notes, lyrics, or text. Against Being acknowledges that movement doesn’t really mean anything unless or until assigned meaning through a common vernacular; hence, he calls Against Being “a dance about nothing.”

Eryka Dellenbach in 'Against Being' | photo credit: Antibody Corporation
Eryka Dellenbach in ‘Against Being’ | photo credit: Antibody Corporation

“I think the real content of dance [is] physical sensation. I’m interested in distinguishing that from the literary arts and distinguishing that from visual art. I’m interested in how dance can be non-visual…kinesthetic empathy is the real content,” said Rose. In Western, modern societies, much of our visceral connections to the world have been stripped away. Dance, movement, physical sensation and body language are no longer deeply connected to the human experience (particularly in North America), and in Rose’s view this disconnect contributes to an arts hierarchy that places dance at the bottom. “It’s hard to attach a value to something impermanent,” he said. “How do we value experience? It’s similar to, ‘how do we value people’s health?’ We’re struggling to provide people with healthcare. Does the experience of living or having a body have value, or is it just the objects we produce?”

In a way, by simply claiming that his dance is about nothing, Rose can explore wherever his dance takes him, free from association to any one discreet layer of meaning. “Embodied Minds, Thinking Body” turned out to be much more than a freshman college seminar for Adam Rose, but a mantra and philosophical assumption behind every dance he creates.

Adam Rose/Antibody Corporation presents ‘Against Being’ Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at Links Hall (3111 N. Western Ave.). All performances are at 7:00pm. Tickets are $10–$12, and available at the door or online at Links Hall is an ADA accessible venue, located close to the Western and Belmont buses.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.