Entering the Icehouse for the first performance of "Rooted in Nothingness" felt like coming home. There was a pile of bodies lying in the ultimate cuddle puddle, there was music that built energy and served as a conduit of rhythms between conversations, and this giant room somehow felt as though it was filled with everyone I had ever met during my 6 years of living in Phoenix (although that was not true because there were 2 other shows equally full later that night, with even more people that I knew in Phoenix). It felt like a space where I was going to build a sense of commradery with people I love, and where we were going to celebrate the talent and success of a beautiful woman as she reaches her transition from student to professional (aka Mac Allen).
There was a defining sense of support, belonging, kinship, and connectedness through out the performance, and beyond that I was not overtly concerned about message or content. I participated in the evening without worrying about what I was watching, and instead I participated with a heightened sense of smell, connections, emotions, and mirror neurons. There was a moment where the dancers gently guided someone as they walked across their backs, building a pathway for their journey forward and support for their return to where they came from as they walked backwards. I remember this part because I started to cry. This section felt like a commune that I wanted to be a part of in a place that I wanted to be.
Other sensations took form during the work as water was splashed on the icehouse floor, filling the air with the scent of wet cement, bringing back childhood memories of playing in puddles in the summer or swimming in flooded streets after a heavy Pennsylvania down pour. This section happened after the audience migrated together into the open aired chapel room of the Icehouse where we encountered a small woman who felt larger than the Icehouse itself as she walked on a direct path straight towards us with complete muscular exhertion and mental presence. There was movement after that, but all that I could remember was the power of her presence as we entered the cathedral room.
As an audience member, I participated in two such migrations, bonding us together in a similarly fluid manner to the transitions of the dancers. The dancers traveled in and out of groupings, solos, partnerships, and movements seamlessly through out the performance. Mac Allen just graduated as a senior who is already creating work at a professional level. The entire work reminded me of "An Act of Now," by Australian-based company, Chunky Move (also my favorite dance company, so this is a HUGE compliment). Similar to that work, "Rooted in Nothingness" blended natural physicality, and humanistic actions and responses, while simultaneously highlighting and accentuating extensive dance training and body knowledge.
Normally, when I hear or encounter a student in any school setting who wants to do work outside of the university, my immediate reation is... why would you ever do that.. you have more resources at the university than you will ever have after you graduate, take advantage of them. Often times you will enter their off-site or site-specific performance venue and find it to be set up just like a theater with rows of chairs, a defined front, and some marley on a cement floor. Their audience will be filled with their friends from college and a few professors.
This was not the case with "Rooted in Nothingness." Allen intentionally utilizilized all available assets of the space, intensively engaged the audience, and highlighted the wealth of connections she has built in the city over the last few years. Seeing someone put together a production of this caliber as their first major self-production brings me a lot of hope and encouragement for Mac Allen and the future of the Phoenix dance.
Choreographer Mac Allen (center) greets audience after the show
Julie Akerly is an artist in residence and co-founder of [nueBOX]. She is an active member of the arts community as a dancer, choreographer, and Arts Engagement Specialist at the City of Tempe. She wholeheartedly believes in the importance of research and the creative process & completed her graduate studies at ASU in dance and interdisciplinary media and performance.