Choreography and social issues merge at Santa Cruz Dance’s ‘Looking Left’ festival
Peter Carpenter has a bone to pick with Ronald Reagan. It began, of all places, at a gay country bar in Los Angeles and eventually evolved into “My Fellow Americans,” an evening-length dance performance choreographed by Carpenter, which critiques the Reagan administration from an LGBT perspective. This weekend, Reagan’s politics, and plenty of other social issues, will be placed under the microscope at “Looking Left/Chicago,” a dance festival at Motion at the Mill, featuring pieces by Carpenter and several other talented dancers and choreographers.
The festival—presented by Cid Pearlman/Performance Projects & Santa Cruz Dance—was created with the purpose of uniting audiences with emerging and mid-career artists, whose intellectually rigorous works fall on the left side of the political spectrum.
Carpenter will perform on Friday, Oct. 19 and Saturday, Oct. 20, alongside artists from such disparate places as Chicago, New York City, Berlin, Germany, the Bay Area, and Santa Cruz. The lineup includes excerpts of Cid Pearlman’s latest work, “Your Body is Not a Shark,” Eli Weinburg’s “This Land is My Land,” Dixie Fun Dance Theater, and much more. The festival will be followed by an evening of screen dance, featuring films by Cari Ann Shim Sham, Ally Voye, and others on Oct. 21, and complemented by workshops hosted by festival performers.
One of the central reasons for Carpenter’s involvement in “Looking Left/Chicago” is his commitment to engaging issues of social justice in his work. His first solo, “Last Cowboy Standing”—an excerpt from the full-length piece—is a representation of his findings after conducting extensive ethnographic research in that infamous gay country bar, Oil Can Harry’s.
“Part of my interest in studying a bunch of gay men and lesbians dancing like cowboys, was how those social dance practices emerged,” explains Carpenter. “At the same time, Ronald Reagan was being elected to the presidency on anti-gay, cowboy politics.” Using mid-century modern dance and release-based techniques, “Last Cowboy Standing” gives the rage of the queer community, AIDS survivors and special interest groups a voice for which to interrogate the rhetoric of the Reagan administration. Although this work is a conversation with the past, it serves as a reminder of the politics that preceded present day ones, especially in light of the upcoming election.
In his second solo piece, Carpenter shares the seventh installment of a cycle of dances known as “Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times.” The chapter which he will perform, entitled “Labor Dispute,” takes a broad look at economies and how the choreographic process can be understood as a division of labor.
At the root of all seven dances in the cycle is the recognition of abundance—that disparity in resources is not an issue of lack, but rather an issue of distribution. “Some people are not getting enough, and some people are keeping too much,” explains Carpenter. “Instead of trying to find blame in some other location, I am trying to look at how I as a person, I as an artist, we as audience members are complicit in a myth of scarcity, and how we could all stand to look at the world from a point of abundance.”
Influenced by Marxist views of labor and capital, Carpenter uses dance to comment on the world at large, in addition to the dancer/choreographer relationship. By performing “Labor Dispute” as a solo—functioning as the dancer, choreographer, and author of the spoken text—he neutralizes the relationship of the three, and exposes a struggle for agency that is resonant with arenas of power beyond the stage. “This will be a solo that I dance for myself,” he says. “I’m questioning how I work with dancers that are not myself; what I ask them to do that I wouldn’t ask myself to do, and what that means politically.”
That idea will be explored further during Carpenter’s Oct. 20 workshop, entitled “Talking Dances.” “I’m going to teach on intersections between movement and spoken text,” he says. “It’s really a composition workshop for people who are interested in making dances, and learning how we can break the divide between the voice and the body.”
Asked about the challenging subject matter at the heart of his performances and others which will be presented at “Looking Left/Chicago,” Carpenter said, “I think our audiences are so much smarter than a lot of choreographers give them credit for. I think they are very sophisticated, hungry for smart work, and willing to engage in some combination of intellect, effect, and empathy.”
“Looking Left/Chicago” begins at 8 p.m. Oct. 19-20 at Motion at the Mill, 131 Front St., Santa Cruz. Workshops will be held on Saturday Oct. 20 beginning at 11 a.m.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit http://santacruzdance.com
Photo1: Beau Saunders
Photo 2: William Frederking