Dance Constrained: Virago-Man Dem


The performers of Virago-Man Dem did an amazing job at depicting the layers of masculinity, however, they were constrained by their medium of communication: video. Of course, when their performance was filmed, they were dancing for a live audience but for everyone else who wants to watch the show, the audience loses a lot of the experience just because they are viewing through a screen.

 Virago-Man Dem at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival. October 2017  Pictured: Jonathan Gonzalez, Duane Cyrus, Ni'Ja Whitson, Niall Noel Jones. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.
From during the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival.

By Grace Chen

From my own experience, I’ve found that dance performances are always better experienced in person which makes my viewing of this show unfortunate. I had a difficult time connecting with the performance and I found it difficult to keep my attention on what was going on. Since I started watching the dance without knowing anything about it(I like to do this so I can come to my own conclusions), I was incredibly confused for most of the performance. Halfway through, I decided to look up what the choreographer was trying to convey. Before I read anything, I gathered that the performance probably had something to do with the different personas of a person. The simultaneous togetherness and separation of the dancers made me believe that they represented one entity but expressed different aspects of that one entity. There was a scene near the middle of the performance that showed the silhouettes of the performers with videos of different elements playing in each shadow. The elements were all different from each other but they are all a part of Earth, which is one entity. However, what the show’s overall message was, I had no idea.

Reading the description on the Cynthia Oliver Company Dance Theatre website about the production gave me an answer to my theory. I was surprised that some of what I was thinking matched with what Oliver, the choreographer, was trying to convey. The website describes the work to depict the nuances of masculinity and simultaneously, femininity. The clearest example of this is through dancing. The gestures would constantly blend between sharp, hard-hitting movements to flowing and graceful motions. The tone would constantly shift, just like how people are never simply masculine or feminine – they’re both. Understanding the goal of the choreographer made the purpose of the show easier to understand but I quickly realized something.

Everything that I had observed of the show was visual.

The production had music but I wasn’t able to connect with it as I should have. This is why I think it is unfortunate that I could not experience this show in person. Sitting down at home, I don’t get to experience the dark auditorium, the realness of the performers, or the ambiance of the music. Watching a dance on a screen is too different from experiencing it directly. So far, I’ve found that theatre through a screen is an acceptable experience and sometimes a better medium, but, I now firmly believe that the experience of a dance cannot be replaced by a computer screen.

You can find the performance here:

Note: I am extremely grateful that this option was given as an alternative viewing because Metamorphosis was going to give me nightmares.

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