If the darkest hour truly comes before the dawn, fans of contemporary dance can welcome the sunrise this weekend. Project Alchemy, the company founded and directed by Alex Jones, performs in public for the first time in more than a year, at thestudio@620.
The piece, choregraphed by Jones in close collaboration with the company members, is titled Within.Without. It’s performed Friday and Saturday, in the round (dancers and audience members alike will be masked, and the seats are spaced six feet apart).
Performed in two sections, the moody 18-minute dance takes the notion of loss as a central theme. Jones, who went a couple rounds with Covid-19 over the summer, began by reflecting on the massive amount of changes in his own life.
“It was originally about the idea of being lost, and then it got expanded into the idea of loss,” he explains. “Personally, for me, I lost my grandmother Christmas Eve around midnight – she was 101. A month before that, I lost an aunt to Covid. And three weeks ago, I lost another aunt to congestive heart failure.
“So it was about losing people during the pandemic, but also about losing jobs. My 13-year career at Disney, gone, because of furlough and then layoff. And I think the feeling of loss also had a socio-political stance for me, too – Black people dying and dealing with that over the summer. Not just over the summer, having to deal with that my entire life. And Covid on top of that. So it was the culmination of a bunch of stuff.”
Nevertheless, he insists that Within.Without “is not an 18-minute dance of ‘woe is me.’ It’s not all sad. Grief happens, and also from this grief, also from this pandemic I have gained hope. I’ve gained resilience. I’ve gained compassion. I’ve gained freedom. I’ve gained joy.
“I’ve also been able to find those things that I can hold on to, that can get me through the day. All of those things start showing up in this piece.”
Together, the company explored the spectral meanings of loss and evolution, in every context and from every angle. They journaled and wrote letters to themselves, then later read the letters out loud to gauge what had changed, and what that felt like.
They talked about memory, about time and the ephemeral nature of things. They talked about ghosts. “What is it like to make movement, and then trying to dance with that version of you that just danced five minutes ago?” Jones asks.
“We talked at length as a company: Do we do this online? Or in person? I don’t see it working or being effective on livestream.”
The decision was made to go ahead and return to live performance. Each show will be followed by a talkback with Jones and the dancers.
While Jones is happy to see Project Alchemy back onstage (and he himself will appear, briefly, during the second segment), he doesn’t exactly view Within.Without as some kind of personal catharsis.
“I’m excited for people to experience it, but I think it’s more exciting for the dancers than it is for me,” he explains. “I don’t care about people seeing me perform onstage. I am more interested in people experiencing the work that I make. Because it’s not like a dance piece, it’s an experience. The whole thing that you’re about to go into is an experience. It’s immersive.
“It’s more about a gift than it is for me getting something. My gift is you, the audience, getting to sit and watch dance in person and experiencing that after not experiencing it for a year.”
Ticket information is here.