Kevin Williamson is a Los Angeles-based choreographer, movement artist, educator and an extraordinary performer whose work I have enjoyed for some time. His newest work Safe and Sound was scheduled to perform at the newly opened Stomping Ground L.A. this past April, but as with so many other performances, it was cancelled due to the pandemic. On July 7, 2020 Safe and Sound was released online by Dixon Place, an award winning non-profit organization created by Artistic Director Ellie Covan “as a salon in her Paris apartment in ‘85”. Now located in New York City, Dixon Place presents over 1000 artists a year; diverse and risk-taking artists from all genres who produce and inspire new ideas.
As a critic, I have found that writing about dance performances recorded and then presented only via the internet a challenge. For me, this process lacks the energy and spontaneity one experiences sitting in the audience of a theater. That said, I did enjoy this particular experience.
Williamson described Safe and Sound as “a dance meditation on self-reservation and queer solidarity”, and although I observed on my personal computer screen, the energy and emotion of this work was both seen and felt. I would not describe Safe and Sound as meditative. It is not a “pretty” dance, or a comfortable dance, especially for those of us who have lived the Queer experience. Williamson’s movement is raw and at times almost exhaustive in its repetition. Anna Luisa Petrisko’s sound score greatly amplifies Williamson’s vision with music and, the repetition of word phrases within the recorded text like “Words matter! Words don’t matter!” and others. Orations by so-called religious figures condemning homosexuality and the homosexuals are speeches the majority of Queer community have been forced to endure for generations.
The four performers are dressed in shimmering, light-reflecting black pants with, in opposition, solid flat-black tank tops. The costumes designed by Kelsey Vidic and the dramatic Lighting Design by Katelan Braymer truly captured the duality of personae one experiences growing up queer in a straight society. The persona shown to the outside world is often in conflict with the one lived in private or in safe company. The work opens and closes with a continuous flutter of confetti projected on the back wall of the theater and there are other amusing and difficult images that are revealed via films by Williamson and Taso Papadakis.
Williamson’s Safe and Sound captures all of this through movement that spans from suggestive posing as seen during the opening scene where the performers move along the floor pausing in provocative poses that present different body areas to the audience, to bodies throbbing and shaking violently with emotion and/or inner turmoil.
Safe and Sound expresses a sense of “queer solidarity” with sections of unison while maintaining nonfigurative movement. It appeared that Williamson reached deep into his emotional self and plucked out a physical vocabulary that visualized feelings shared by an entire community; one of bodies and minds that that appear outwardly calm while simultaneously experiencing internal rebellion or despair.
These emotions sometimes grow from stillness to rapid fire torso movements that produce seemingly uncontrolled utterances from the performers. Williamson takes us from seduction to terror, from tenderness to rejection, and from anguish to self-love. Performers are seen lying face down only to shift positions over and over again as if unable to settle. We hear voices whispering words that were difficult to discern on the streaming platform, but the meaning was definitely felt.
One of the quieter sections involved a double duet. Two men in a romantic embrace while slow dancing, and two women moving through a more active duet that was moved through a litany of feelings experienced in same-sex relationships that are still considered taboo in some places: attraction, confusion, lust, rejection and finally acceptance.
Williamson concludes with the four performers in a circle performing repetitive arm movements while then building into more complex floor movement phrases. I had a brief mental flashback to patterns seen with the June Taylor Dancers I watched as a kid on the Jackie Gleason Variety Show or looking into a black and white kaleidoscope.
Safe and Sound is a provocative and powerful work and I hope it survives to be shared via a live in-person performance. The dynamic cast of performers included Kayla Johnson, Justin Morris, Alex Rix, and Kevin Williams.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, July 9, 2020.
To watch Safe and Sound on YouTube, click HERE. (Length of availability not known.)
To watch other dance videos at Dixon Place, click HERE.
To learn more about Dixon Place, click HERE.
Featured image: Kevin Williams+Company in Safe and Sound – Photo by Ferrari