All photos by Valeria Paulsgrove
Temperance is regarded as a cardinal virtue. We’re often advised to avoid extremities of emotion; to “be easy” and “remain calm.” Outbursts of feeling, then, are often regarded as overly sentimental; childish; worthless. Perhaps, however, these emotional extremes can yield productivity. Maybe there’s virtue to be found in them.
Carson Garhart, better known as Salamander Wool, released the album Solar Solipsis earlier this year. Garhart, who has one foot firmly set in folk music and another in the world of electronic noise, used the album to explore the sonic possibilities of a single day on earth. And he takes a particular interest in extremes. The work is psychedelic in a totally nontraditional way—beeps and basswobbles mingle with strummed strings; vocals are scattered and intentionally imbalanced; silences are often jarring. The accompanying sentiments are rarely “easy” or “calm.” They shake up listeners. They achieve balance, but not by way of temperance. No restraint is exhibited.
The often clashing sensations provoked by Solar Solipsis don’t only garner emotional responses, however. Listening, you can feel the sounds in your flesh. The experience is viscerally confusing in the most intriguing way.
It is only fitting, then, that FlucT Dance Productions, connoisseurs of bodily weirdness and emotional extremes, recently made this album their own. The local experimental dance troupe organized a group of individuals from differing artistic backgrounds. Together, the group choreographed and produced a movement piece to accompany Garhart’s work.
FlucT is the brainchild of Monica Mirabile and Sigrid Lauren, who became close while involved with the now defunct Baltimore Experimental Dance Collective. “We shared similar visions and ways of moving and intentions of movement,” said Mirabile, “so we started doing work with just the two of us.”
Solar Solipsis was brought to Mirabile and Lauren’s attention at the suggestion of Stuart Mostofsky. Mostofsky runs Ehse Records, the label to which Salamander Wool is signed. He was familiar with FlucT’s work “and he’d been listening to the album and thought it would fit,” Mirabile says. Both she and Lauren were moved upon first listen. “We actually sat back to back and meditated on it,” said Mirabile with a slightly bashful laugh. Every trace of embarrassment disappeared, however, as she began to further articulate their avid interest.
“A lot of what Sigrid and I do together is creating extremes in the way people experience dance and movement,” she said. “We try to be immersive and even aggressive in that…we want people to be physically affected by it. And in Solar Solipsis we heard a lot of epic, heavy hitting sound making happening.” The fit seems natural.
Participants in FlucT’s Solar Solipsis weren’t hard to find. “They were all people that we knew or were connected to through being in the art world. Some came to our workshops before, some expressed interest in being in our work.” As no formal audition process was held, any of the 20 movers involved were completely untrained. “The only requirement was that you could make it to rehearsal.” This commitment should not be discredited: with just 20 dancers and roughly 6 dancers per piece, many were required to rehearse 4 days a week for 2 months.
The work premiered at the Penthouse Gallery on June 29th, showcasing a wholly unconventional type of grace. Dancers writhed and shook, sometimes in perfect unison and sometimes in a more abstract, improvised manner. Strange props were twirled. Shadows on the stage were integral, and seemed to become dancers themselves. Varying styles and tempos were explored, and centers of gravity rose and fell to match the hilly soundscape.
Sigrid and Monica choreographed most of the work, but they also invited five more experienced members of their cast to work through individual songs. Each took a very different approach. Monica spoke to the dynamic that arose from such a varied group of movers: “A lot of the ways Sigrid and I teach movement is by giving words or emotions and having people respond, like for this specific piece, we’d say, you know, it’s 11 am and you’re really hungry and probably cranky. What does that look like? Now exaggerate it.” Each participant necessarily drew from their individual life experience, so “each person definitely had a certain signature movement.” The process as a whole was emotionally exhausting, but extremely rewarding.
The performers were not alone in their hard work. The premiere was also demanding for its audience, in more ways than one. “A lot of the ways we dance are kind of dark.” Monica said, “They’re often coming from a place of critique—of movement, of femininity, how our culture responds to emotion.” She described some of the most rewarding feedback she received as “both physical and intellectual.” Much of FlucT’s work strives to bridge this duality between the mind and the body, translating the cerebral into the bodily; theory into practice.
“Sigrid and I are constantly talking about being curators of the mind body connection,” she said. “We believe that there’s the abstract and intangible and the physical and tangible, and those things have to be connected to fully experience being alive. Or just being.” This is why Solar Solipsis (both the album and movement piece) and FlucT’s other work seeks to explore the full range of what they call “emotive consciousness.” She expressed how grateful she is to have found music that so easily lent itself to this, and a like-minded partner willing to milk it for all its worth. “We’re kind of soulmates,” she said of Sigrid, presumably meaning bodymates as well.
Monica knows how easy it is to become “lost in thought…we live in a society that’s often really apathetic, but perhaps there’s importance in actually acting on the things you believe in.” Again, this action would not function in the same way if it were tempered. Restraint would water it down. This sort of movement aims to liberate the body from its normalized functions.
Beyond the intellectualization of their mode of movement, however, Monica finds worth in the sheer beauty of the human body’s action. “We’re also just intuitively inclined to dance,” she said, “to show a kind of beauty on the physical plane of poetry.”
As she gushed about the premiere, this statement came to life: “something funny happened…the days of the show ended up being on the two hottest days of the year. We were performing on the fifth floor of a warehouse building with no air conditioning. Everyone was severely affected by the heat…dancers were just pouring waterfalls…and the audience, too.” Some would accept this as sheer bodily misery, but Monica seemed to find the experience transcendent. “It was almost like—” she began hesitantly, aware of her own romanticism. “It was almost like being in the sun.”