Catellier Dance Projects presented the final work in its series of performances examining the elements of dance last week. The series began in May 2011 with Tempo, a work that examined time, and continued with The Final Frontier in 2012 that examined space, and then E on energy in 2013. It finally concluded with the latest, Corpus Mysterii, which focused on the body. The series presented at Emory’s Schwartz Center Dance Studio from September 18–21.
The themes sound abstract, dry and academic, but they’ve been rich and productive topics for choreographer Greg Catellier and his dancers, who approach the subjects with a lot of self-effacing humor. In Corpus, as in the other works, there was openness to marveling at the human body’s capabilities, but also a willingness to poke fun at its humiliating limitations and vulnerabilities.
Time, space, energy and the body — at least as human beings know them — are always delimited; even when we experience them at their most abundant, they are depressingly tinged with intimations of mortality and the finite. Catellier sees the human condition as hopelessly tragic, but it’s a comic, postmodern sort of tragedy, the despair of Woody Allen rather than Hamlet.
Corpus Mysterii remained true to the tone of the other works, featuring a mix of dance, theater, comedy and personal narrative. Movement often highlighted, appropriately enough, the full weight of the body; turns emphasized mass and momentum or falls created by resisting, or submitting to, the pull of gravity.
The first segment’s dances were punctuated by monologues from the dancers, divulging stories from the past about some grave personal injury, usually of a humiliatingly prosaic nature (we all have them): falls due to clumsy accidents, embarrassing household accidents, strange maladies, the demeaning and seemingly random malfunctions of the body. The body can do marvelous things — it’s one of the reasons we go to see dance — but let’s not forget what we’re dealing with.
The second movement had dancers taking poses from Andreas Vesalius, the16th-century anatomist . I recognized them because I’d interviewed Catellier about the piece beforehand, but there was nothing to identify the poses for other members of the audience, and I wondered if the most interesting aspect of the dance — the fact that these were poses from centuries-old illustrations brought into the present on living bodies — would be lost for them.
One of the show’s final, surprisingly somber images was of the dancers paired up and embracing in a pietà-like tableau as the lights fade to black. We seldom get the opportunity to express it, but having a body is a lamentable, pitiable state. A thoughtful and incisive show should also have something really stupid in it to balance things out, and Catellier obliged in a literal way by ending with a comic coda choreographed to a cover of Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s “Something Stupid,” in which he and partner Kristin O’Neal squirted each other with cans of whipped cream, part affectionate play, part aggressive competition.
Catellier’s elements of dance has made for an interesting journey, one made with comically self-deprecating admissions of inadequacy at every step. It all put me in mind of another great Frank song. Something tragic, something funny, something pretty, something stupid. Well, as Frank sang: that’s life.