The shock of RAWdance’s Mine is that it demands so much of us. In less than an hour, choreographers Wendy Rein and Ryan T. Smith plunge us into a world of military precision punctuated by dancing so slippery in meaning that it feels like a new vocabulary. As I was watching — and I rarely do this — I started taking notes because there was something about the choreography that made me want to put words to the unusually striking moves. I found myself naming the dozen or so sections of the piece to try to catch the spirit of these strange new dances: “Bird-caging,” “The Toe Touch Slip,” “Wall Slam Jam,” “Wide Mouth Screaming,” “Unexpected Rope Work,” “Chariot Bitch,” and my favorite, “The Upset Shake.” You won’t see these in the clubs anytime soon.
Mine begins with five dancers walking on stage—one by one over about 10 minutes—and standing in a line. They each enter so quietly and assuredly that it seems they appear out of nowhere. What at first appears to be a series of warm-ups quickly turns sinister, as you realize this is a group that will never be whole or truly function. A dancer holds another’s leg, and then that leg slips away. It’s a simple gesture, but it feels wrong — not to the piece, but to way we normally perceive the world. That leg shouldn’t shoot away; that connection should stay. One fascinating aspect of Mine is how well the dancers move together, and yet convey a sense of alienation from each other that feels final and absolute.
There’s no story to Mine and yet it has a tremendous amount of narrative momentum. It’s as if the central metaphor, “mine,” signaling both ownership and burrowing underground, is gradually exploding in front of you. What starts as a crack in an ordered world, something close to a military gymnasium, opens up to experiences that both terrify and entice the participants. When the dancers start to play with ropes, you aren’t sure whether they’ll use them for skipping or for strangling each other. And they don’t seem to know either. You have to watch, and you want to watch, and you have no idea what’s going to happen. It’s exhilarating and exhausting. But that’s the price of real art.
RAWdance’s Mine runs through December 13, 2015 at the Joe Goode Annex in San Francisco. For tickets and information visit www.rawdance.org.