Before Peter Sparling’s youngest brother died of AIDS, he told Sparling not to create a dance about him.
“I made this before he passed away!” says Sparling, choreographer of “Witness.” “His spirit is everywhere in it … .”
“Witness,” a modern dance piece featured in the University of Michigan’s Dance Company production “Rituals and Reveries” from Feb. 1-4, was created in 1990 in response to the AIDS pandemic of the ’80s.
“My generation of male dancers who danced together during the ’70s and ’80s was decimated by AIDS,” says Sparling, who’s also a professor of dance at U-M. “I am one of the few survivors.”
For Sparling, getting the dancers to channel emotions through their performance was a challenge.
“It was sometimes difficult to invest in today’s younger dancers the weight and gravity of the occasion – both in a spiritual or emotional sense and also in the physical, visceral sense,” he says. “How do younger dancers who did not experience this horror find the sense of tragedy and loss inside their own experience to bring to the work? How do they ‘physicalize’ it in a simple gesture, a way of walking, of falling to the ground or getting up again?”
Though Jeremiah Crank, 26, wasn’t dancing professionally when AIDS took the biggest toll on the gay community, he stepped into the shoes of an HIV-positive friend for his solo performance.
“I essentially relate to that experience and think of what I went through when I heard he had contracted the virus,” Crank says.
Crank, along with the other dancers, began rehearsing in September. Working with Sparling has not only allowed him to enhance his “Witness” performance, but his talent as a dancer.
“(Jeremiah’s) attenuated body and dramatic intensity really give the movement a ‘narrow flame’ of burning intensity,” says Sparling, quoting a title of a poem by his colleague, Linda Gregerson. “It is also extraordinary and unusual to be able to work with such a large cast of men! The energy is unbelievable: men moving together – not at a sporting event or at the stock market exchange – but rather in loving reverence to shared loss.”
“Rituals and Reveries”
Power Center for the Performing Arts