An hour before the premiere of “What We Do,” directed by Polina Ionina and presented by The How, I was dragging my feet and running late. Then an ominous text arrived. Dad was in the ER. The past year had seen a diagnosis of Parkinson’s, a broken leg, a crippling cellulitis infection, and now back pain so severe he was bedridden. I felt even less like seeing a show. After all, hopes were low for what had been pitched as a workshop production of physical theater.
They look at you. One at a time they rise to their feet and open their eyes and look at you. One sways slightly, a smile flickers on the lips of another, a third heaves a sigh, reminding you to breathe. Seven humans beings of all shapes and sizes, a sampling of humanity. Standing and breathing. And looking at you.
Are decisions made with the mind or body? I found myself running to catch the train. Somewhere under Manhattan another message arrived from Mom. Dad was in a hospital bed awaiting diagnosis. A little background: They’ve been married forty-eight years. He was a strong man and a good provider, now she’s lifting him out of chairs and steadying his walker as he inches towards the bathroom.
The impulse to individuate seems to come from the group, but someone must have started it. A man and a woman crawl out of the primordial soup and take turns giving chase, her writhing in his arms, him held aloft, limp and exhausted. Primeval duality. Ebb and flow of yin and yang. The story of a man who sweeps a woman off her feet and carries her until his strength gives out and then–she carries him. The story of a woman.
The house was nearly full when I arrived. The performers sat on either side of the sterile white room like wallflowers at some futuristic dance. Or patients in a waiting room. I checked my phone for updates before switching it off. No news. The audience stole glances at themselves and each other in the wall to wall mirrors. No one spoke, for fear the show had already begun.
An opera aria gives way to Alan Watts preaching the gospel of solipsism circa ’69. Naval gazing ensues, as one performer’s eyes and limbs turn inward, then another’s. The final stage of individuation. Movement becomes self-conscious. Connection is lost. It’s a lonely dance, futile. But slowly, almost imperceptibly, the unconscious need to integrate takes hold, and an organism forms–a whole this time, greater than its parts. It moves through some collective impulse, each mover somehow both led and leading, both carried and carrying. It moves slowly towards me and looks at me fixedly, familiarly through the eyes of a stranger, as if to say: You are part of this, too. We carry each other. And the truth of that look is so naked I can only look away.
When the applause had died down, I check my phone. They had given Dad an anti-inflammatory and a script for an MRI. Something, anyway. Relieved, I began sorting through my impressions. What did I just see? Committed, bold performances, yes. Compelling, organic choreography, certainly. But what did the ensemble do, exactly? And the best answer I could come up with was simply this: They moved me deeply.
Coming to IRT July 25, 26, 27, 30, 31 and August 1, 2.
What We Do was created by the ensemble over a four day, four and a half hour rehearsal process. It is an exploration of attention, attraction, separation, and oneness. Directed by Polina Ionina and featuring Rosalee Dehuff, Olya Mikhaylova, Maria Swisher, Nathaniel Ansbach, André Vauthey, William Hand, and Rand Faris, it premiered in The Lab at Alchemical Studios on May 10, 2019. For more information visit www.thehow.nyc.