Last fall, the Durham-based choreographer Renay Aumiller found herself contemplating seismic shifts, both culturally and close to home. Though the prospect of political change has always provoked anxiety in our country, Trump seemed like something different. Plus, Aumiller was pregnant for the first time—with twins. If the body politic seemed frozen by fears, incapable of accepting whatever change was coming, Aumiller knew she had no corresponding option in her own body. She needed a new relationship with the concept of change itself.
"If I could find positive change in the way I create work, then change wasn't something that should be feared; the change I wanted to see in the world was not impossible," Aumiller says. As she tried to visualize what that might look like, one image kept reappearing: a pendulum, a device that has monitored planetary shifts for millennia and is now also a figure of speech describing political shifts.
That was the genesis of boneGlow, her company's new work, which premieres this weekend as part of the Durham Independent Dance Artists season. To create it, Aumiller enlisted Raleigh-based metal artist Mary Catherine Floyd to create four weighted metal pendulums, which are hung from the ceiling of the Living Arts Collective. Aumiller and her performers will push, spin, evade, and partner with them as they trace parabolas across different zones of the stage.
For the choreographer, this entails a significant loss of control. When pushed, the pendulums will move as they will, regardless of who's in their way. Company member Allie Pfeffer, who was struck on the back of her head on the first day of rehearsal, says it's like "dancing with four performers who are unaware of your presence and unconcerned with their own heft and sharpness." By now, her colleague Nicole Lawson knows that if she pushes a plumb bob too far, she'll receive that same force coming back; the pendulum can't recover as a human does if a move goes awry.
"It can only react," she says.
Aumiller has deliberately ceded control in other ways as well, giving her performers the authority to edit phrase work and costumes themselves. That, she says, was "hard as hell." Her prior work, Blood Moon, "was all about control, and it brought out controlling aspects of my personality." But she approached boneGlow as a collaboration because she wants to "live in a world that's collaborative, not us against them."
"I don't feel comfortable doing a piece this large without an idea that will hopefully change me as a person," Aumiller says, and thus far, she's found the experiment fun and freeing. "Usually, I'm an anxious mess by this point in the process." But on this swing of her creative pendulum, she isn't.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Parabolic Art."