l-r: Nol Simonse, ArVejon Jones, Brian Fisher, Sean Dorsey. ‘The Missing Generation’ at Bates Dance Festival. Lydia Daniller photo
l-r: Brian Fisher, ArVejon Jones, Nol Simonse, Sean Dorsey. ‘The Missing Generation’ at Bates Dance Festival. Lydia Daniller photo
l-r: Sean Dorsey, Nol Simonse, Juan de la Rosa, Brian Fisher. ‘The Missing Generation’ at Bates Dance Festival. Lydia Daniller photo
We may not be the only people with an “inexhaustible capacity to look away,” a phrase repeated during Sean Dorsey’s “The Missing Generation.” But choreographer and dancer Dorsey has chosen to explore what such a capacity meant for an American generation of gay, bisexual and transgender people before, during and after the early years of the AIDS pandemic.
Dorsey brought his multimedia piece to the Bates Dance Festival for its first East Coast performance after premiering in San Francisco in May. His purpose in creating this ambitious work was to tell the story that, he feared, was not as well known as it should be. He wanted to do so before the actual voices of those who were there and survived would be gone.
The 60-plus minute piece consists of contemporary dance movement and some spoken passages from four male troupe members who perform to original music and in response to the pre-recorded voice-overs of people who were interviewed by Dorsey about those times. It’s a powerful work that largely meets its biggest challenge in relating the dance to the oral history being heard by the audience.
Dorsey contextualizes the era with a section on “The Great Rainbow Migration” in the 1970s when many LGBT people formed second families after being exiled from their original homes. In such urban centers as San Francisco and New York, though, people still had to live “double lives” in a society deeply prejudiced. But “The Long Party” had begun and is reflected in the work by energetic loose-limbed pairings set to a thumping dance beat. Everything was about having a good time “until AIDS came along,” as one of the voices ominously recounts.
The choreography then gets considerably more anguished, the music more spare and somber. Fear and desperation become evident as a voice describes being transformed into “a toxic object” by caregivers fearful of the disease. In one particularly touching passage, a transgender survivor describes friends simply disappearing without a trace.
Note is taken of the failure of political leaders to acknowledge the pandemic and the efforts of demonstrators to force a response from the broader society. Dance passages at this point feature movement that has the performers holding on to each other, seemingly uncertain of which way to turn. “We held each other back from despair,” a voice says.
Dancer Brian Fisher, who experienced the era first-hand as a young man from Maine who went to New York City in search of a future, addresses the audience in monologues, one humorous and one very emotional, that brings the period to life on the stage as he speaks about a time of death.
ArVejon Jones and Nol Simonse completed the onstage ensemble with Dorsey and Fisher. The four, at times, arrestingly seem to form one complicated being as they joined together. Some solos, under a stark spotlight, were also quite effective.
As the festival scholar in residence, Debra Cash, noted in a brief pre-performance lecture on Saturday, the AIDS story, though not over, is an important part of American history. Sean Dorsey, through a lot of hard work and creative inspiration, has provided a look at, not away from, a crucial point in that history.
WHAT: The Missing Generation” by Sean Dorsey Dance
WHERE: Bates Dance Festival, Lewiston
REVIEWED: July 18