REVIEW: Monique Jenkinson’s “Instrument” at CounterPULSE San Francisco
In the unassuming space of CounterPULSE’s black box-esque theater, Monique Jenkinson’s new solo work, “Instrument,” spoke clearly and intimately to the audience. The work is not long, an hour and twenty minutes, but it does not drag on nor race by. It is a series of different episodes, each one sporting a different costume and each one resonating differently, but soundly with an audience of classically trained dancers. The piece enters deep inside the mind of a dancer and projects the complexities of her relationship to her craft on to stage. Perhaps this is why I was so taken with “Instrument.” Coming from an upbringing of pink tights and slicked back buns, I identified with the small battles both won and lost, the levity of the individual stories told, and the sometimes uncomfortable inner struggles of a dancer realized on stage.
The creation of this piece began with an exhibition presented at the de Young, a highly regarded art museum in San Francisco and the place of residence of Monique’s fellowship. The exhibition is entitled “Rudolph Nureyev: A Life in Dance” and the life and work of Nureyev served as inspiration for the collaborators of this work. Monique wove together movement created for her by three different choreographers, Miguel Gutierrez, Amy Seiwert, and Chris Black, interspersed with intellectual findings on the endeavor of recording and preserving the fleeting art form of dance.
Coming from an upbringing of pink tights and slicked back buns, I identified with the small battles both won and lost, the levity of the individual stories told, and the sometimes uncomfortable inner struggles of a dancer realized on stage.
The format of the piece is unique to say the least, and the work is a lot to take in. There is no structure that appears recognizable. In one moment Monique repetitively and imperfectly conducts familiar classical ballet exercises, and in another she sits at the front of the stage with her legs spread, her elbows resting on her knees, and a light shinning directly on her face as she executes a dance of facial expressions. At one point in the work, Monique intently tries to balance in passé downstage center. Her face is concentrated, and she looks nervous, not as if she is attempting this act for pleasure, but merely because she is being forced to. As the air grows silent and the environment becomes tense, she blurts out “How are you doing?” and proceeds to engage in a casual and raw conversation with the audience. Her impulse to engage with the audience brings ease to her effortful balancing act and effectively bridges the gap between performer and audience, drawing us deeper into her world.
“Instrument” as a whole is fractured. Each segment does not necessarily flow from one to the next, but in my eyes this was perhaps the most honest and touching aspect of the work. A dancer’s relationship to his or her craft is not graceful. It is amorphous and does not always make sense. Despite this, a dancer remains in the dance because of some undesignated and undefined passion; the same passion that proves to be the underlying and empowering thread behind “Instrument.”