In contemporary culture, images of the “beautiful” body –infinitely youthful, long and lean- inundate daily life, promoting a cultural standard. The pressure to comply to this constructed norm is heightened in the dance world, where dancers are often subject to early retirement, due not only to injuries and a loss of stamina but also to the stigmas of the aging body.
This situation continues to evolve, in part because of the work of dancers and choreographers who advocate for and incorporate older bodies into their dances. As members from senior centers and mature dancers often make up the cast of choreographer Liz Lerman’s pieces, intergenerationality is one of her signatures. Similarly, in 1998, dance artists Carmen deLavallade, Gus Solomons Jr. and Dudley Williams created Paradigm, a dance company with seasoned dancers who are primarily in their sixties.
With her work Soil, which will be featured at the Music Moves Festival, Bay Area choreographer Randee Paufve contributes to the conversation regarding the still meager visibility of aging bodies onstage. Originally an evening-length piece, Soil weaves together five solos that “challenge the notion that with aging we lose endurance. [The piece] takes visible risks in exploring the primitive frontiers of the middle-aged female dancing body… and undermines the invisibility that comes with a certain age,” Paufve explains.
Similar to its title that evokes the natural world, the creation of Soil was somehow deeply organic. Collaborative work and conversations lay the fertile ground for Soil (no pun intended). The dance was born in 2010 when Paufve’s friend and fellow choreographer Kate Weare created a solo for her. In 2011, Paufve commissioned a second solo from Portland-based choreographer Gregg Bielemeier. She was also approached by Frank Shawl, who asked her to take on Flying Over Emptiness, a solo “about the bleakness and fear that the possibility of death inspires,” created for Shawl by the late Della Davidson.
Originally conceived as a series of yearly commissions that would culminate in a concert of works to be performed in 2015, Soil precociously premiered in 2013, after Paufve discovered the Swedenborgian Hillside Community Church in El Cerrito. She recalls “[feeling] strongly that Soil belonged there as a cohesive, site-specific show.” The premiere was therefore advanced and Paufve decided to add her “choreographic voice to the mix by revising an old solo for the opening, and creating a new solo for the closing.” A new version of Soil will be performed at Music Moves to fit within the double-bill evening. Weare’s piece is replaced by the much shorter work In Exhale, a solo Paufve choreographed in 2003 for former Trisha Brown dancer Shelley Senter. Music Moves marks the first time Paufve will perform the solo.
If in geology the soil is often considered as the “skin of the earth,” Paufve digs beneath the surface of our being with her piece, unearthing subterranean currents and exposing our tremoring fragility and light. She thereby highlights and expands the infinite possibilities contained within the body, as it moves into age.