Toby MacNutt (and Vienna Teng)

I walked past a poster of upcoming events at Flynn Space the other day, stopped, scratched my head, turned back, and then read a familiar name: Toby MacNutt, my old group partner from syntax class a few years ago (super-smart and a lot of fun to work with). Toby was also the most recent recipient of the Vermont Artists’ Space Grant and has been putting together a piece of dance which premiered in work-in-progress form a couple of days ago.

It’s in five parts and explores the idea and experience of being in a sense multiple-bodied: Toby dances both with and without crutches, inhabiting them as an extension of the physical self, as creating a kind of second body with regard to other people and the (both internal and external) world. Throughout the piece different qualities of relationship and connectedness are played with – engagement and touch, disengagement.

The sections contrast inventively, each of the three duets emphasizing different aspects of movement and relationship amongst the dancers. Sometimes the pair are synchronized, at other moments they are responding to each other, still other times they go off in different directions, creating their own individual dialogues with the surrounding space. There is also a solo movement (performed with crutches and, unlike the others, in silence, ie without accompanying music), which brings in certain qualities of gymnastic grace rare to see in dance. The piece concludes with a joyously choreographed section for all of the dancers together.

The Vermont Artists’ Space Grants award 10 weeks of creation time, with the expectation being that the end result will still be a work-in-progress. Toby is looking for further funding in order to bring the project to final completion.

The first section was performed to this song, “Recessional,” by Vienna Teng, whom I’d never heard. I must admit I almost lost it (!) when her utterly gorgeous voice entered as the lights went down and the dancers stepped into the open, bare space. The song has been haunting me since the performance and I’ve listened to it quite a few times. Looking it up I read somewhere that it was written as a love song in reverse – if so it makes perfect and devastatingly beautiful sense.