At the downstage edge of the Lobero Theatre’s stage, two male dancers are engaged in an odd sort of struggle. One stands facing the audience; the other tries repeatedly to step past, only to be returned to his original spot in a series of escalating swings and dips. Limbs dangle over the lip of the stage. Sometimes there’s the thump of a body hitting the floor. The men grunt; their shirts are dark with sweat. “Yes, yes, yes! Are you okay? Is it possible?” They go at it again.
The dancers of Brian Brooks Moving Company are one week into their month-long rehearsal process for Big City, a 40-minute work for seven dancers set to premiere at the Lobero on Friday, March 30. For Brooks, who also dances in his company, this residency is allowing him to explore emerging themes in his work – that’s wonderful, he says, and also scary.
“I’ve found surprising vulnerability here in one week,” the choreographer explained on his lunch break. “I feel like I’m discovering something I didn’t anticipate.” That element of discovery is a crucial part of the creative process, and one that’s too often lost in the rush to produce a finished work within tight constraints.
As we talk, Brooks draws out a notebook full of sketches, notes, and collage. “I’m often writing, drawing, blabbing, scribbling about themes in the world and in the work,” he explains. In March 2011, his notebook entries began to focus on themes of destruction and regeneration. Brooks watched as the tsunami in Japan devastated entire communities, and he watched the way many people quietly began the process of rebuilding.
“There’s a certain love in dance and theater for destruction,” Brooks noted. “I was touched, in contrast, by the idea of taking the first step forward after destruction. There’s a strong parallel in dance: We make something from nothing; it’s built out of effort.”
For now, the company of seven dancers is hard at work exploring ways to evoke these themes in movement. Working right at the edge of the stage has become one metaphor for being on the edge, courting disaster, and relying on others for support. It isn’t an easy process, and at times, rehearsals are charged with tension. “No, no, no,” Brooks will cry, prodding an errant leg or shoulder. “This is fine; this is not good.” But then, after 10 or 12 tries, a movement clicks, and another piece of the construction slots into place.