Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass are the most fun choreographers ever. They may also be the most fun people ever, but I haven't met everyone so who can say. What you may miss at their new production at the Women’s Project, One Night Only (running as long as we can), is that they are a profoundly conceptual, endlessly sensitive, and frighteningly interesting company as well.
One Night Only is a dance performance not about the dancing itself, but about these dancers as athletes at a certain point in their careers (hopefully not the end), and performance frame of a dance performance itself. They have choreographed a conceptual dance piece, theoretically more concerned with their ideas then the actual movements -- but the concept is so personal and elegant, so grounded in their bodies and what moving has done to their bodies, and so invested in dancing and not just ideas about dancing, well, it's the best kind of concept art, is what I'm trying to say.
One Night Only is framed as some amalgamated sporting event. Veteran technical director Robert Saenz de Viteri is the broadcaster for the evening, sitting in a visible “announcing booth” in the house. He calls the show, so as Barnes and Bass go through their synchronized movements — nothing fancy: soft-shoe and spins and even a little treadmill routine — he comments on their endurance and physicality. Though dance is seemingly recast as a sporting event, in fact, dance is still dance and always has been dance; Monica Bill Barnes and Company is simply comically framing a dance performance so the medium can express the severe athletic elements of it.
And the comedy is real. Barnes and Bass are legit a comedy duo, but all the jokes have conceptual ends. At one point they have the whole house compete in a balance contest, and the winner then delivers an epic list of the injuries both dancers have suffered over their careers as they move in looping, elegant circles. In this, they are having fun with the house, having the house perform a physical act themselves, then, having one of us recite the consequences to their career back to them. Barnes and Bass have such a grasp of the nuances of the performance feedback loop, they’re not only dance athletes but dance geniuses.
Dancers careers very much reflect those of pros in sports: they sacrifice, they put their bodies on the line. Part of their art is the corporeal expression of effort (or, in ballet for instance, hiding that effort). Monica Bill Barnes and Company's work in the past, like the awesome piece where they sprinted through the MET, more clearly displayed that effort; this work was about their history of displaying the effort.
These are sophisticated contemporary dance ideas, and Barnes and Bass share them in the most fun, engaging, silly way. What an accomplishment! One Night Only is really about their career as an accomplishment. And it kinda felt like an ode, a hint of retirement on the horizon.
But Barnes and Bass are still clearly throwing fastballs, so I guess I just don't see these two not dancing any time soon. In one cool section, Viteri delivers a monologue about hockey legend Jaromir Jagr, who is 45 and has been in the NHL since he was 16. He lives for the work, just as these dancers live to move. The game doesn't need him, but he needs the game. My guess is it's the same for Barnes and Bass.