Two dancers in pink sports bras spar with flyswatters as a woman in feathery yellow kneepads dances around them, stepping in time with the electro-tribal beat in the background.
To those familiar with The Moving Company and their somatic public performance projects, this scene may be slightly recognizable. To those who happened upon Fridman Gallery in New York on December 8th, perhaps it struck them as cryptic, even odd. But Tamar Ettun and Company weren’t going for clarity—they show, not tell.
Ettun, a sculptor and performance artist, and her three fellow dancers performed as part of Unbecoming, an exhibition of different artists’ works centered on themes of seeming but false incompleteness. The 12-minute dance drama is a link in a bigger series: The Moving Company is in the midst of Mauve Bird with Yellow Teeth Red Feathers Green Feet and a Rose Belly, a four-year public performance project exploring how communities deal with trauma, focusing on empathy as a tool for resolution, stillness as a means of resistance, and joy as the ultimate goal.
Each year’s performance uses a color and a theme. This year (2016) was Yellow and Desire, last year was Blue and Empathy, and 2017 will be the year of Pink and Aggression. For the first time, The Moving Company created a piece to mark the transition from one year to another.
“As we started exploring joy as a life force,” Tamar said in a panel discussion at Fridman, “We moved into ‘Aggression.’ I wanted to explore something more negative. But is it really? Does aggression perhaps involve even more life and force than desire does?”
Timed with the performance, a social project kicked off this same week. Starting now and throughout the “Pink” year, the company will work with at-risk youth at the Community Counseling and Mediation Center in Crown Heights. Through monthly workshops, collaborative classes, and lessons in storytelling with movement, participants will explore how aggression is expressed, and how it can lead to conflict resolution. “This really could be great for teenagers,” Ettun said. “This is a period of their lives filled with awkwardness and bodily insecurity. In engaging with them, we can explore resistance and resolution through those bodies.” Pink’s year will be marked in May with a public performance in Battery Park, NYC, and participants will have the chance to join the production.
I sat with Ettun a few days before the event, curious about The Moving Company's esoteric yet attractive use of inflatables, sculpture, performance, and video. “We aim to speak to the art world in their language, much of the time,” Ettun tells me, pointing out to me how her Yellow performance included discernable references to Dadaism and Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. “And yet, we also exist to reach those not in the art world, the tourists and passersby who might be intrigued by the playfulness and color. We’re trying to draw them in.”
Standing among the thirty folks at the Fridman Gallery the night of the show, I witnessed two performers in the same stretchy yellow suits of 2016’s Mauve Bird: Part Yellow video pulling, prancing, and tearing at each other, peeling away their yellow clothes to reveal the first signs of pink beneath them. As in most of their public performances, they employed sculptures. Skates wedged in chunks of concrete served as sculpted-shoes for ruby onyinyechi amanze (one of the company members whose drawings are also featured in Unbecoming). I can’t help but notice her face’s easy disavowal of the shoes' weight. I’ve already nudged them with my own foot before the performance; they’re heavy, but ruby gazes calmly ahead with every thick step.
With their company mission in mind, I’m looking—perhaps too hard—for the story behind the performance. I think I can see it: there’s tension between two parties. Then trauma strikes, and one is marred by violence, leading to conflict. Trauma at first overpowers the victim. But empathy eventually unities the messy group, leading them away from the scene of the violence. This last bit is represented by Ettun herself, clothed in blue, pulling the writhing group out the gallery door to conclude the piece.
So I presented Ettun with everything I thought after the performance. “Did I see it right?” I asked. She laughed in a way that felt encouraging and asked me, “Did you?” Thankfully, Mauve Bird with Yellow Teeth Red Feathers Green Feet and a Rose Belly goes on.