“…in Lynchtown (from his Atavisms suite) grim horror was the keynote. In this work, the audience witnessed not only the injustice with which a minority group of our population has been treated but also the primitive blood lust, the sadism which supposedly civilized persons reveal when a scapegoat for their savagery is found. Lynch Town strikes home, it strikes the very being of the American, for the trembling evil of the lynchers themselves and the evil of the lookers-on who share vicariously in the horrible thrill seem to vibrate across the footlights and attack the complacency of those who sit in the safety of the theater. The dancers move with racing frenzy, halting to look at death with lust and, perhaps, with fear. A figure stretches forward to get a better view of murder, and horror stretches along the invisible waves of art communications to remind the beholder that the battle for ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ is not yet won.” -From Walter Terry, The Dance in America, Harper & Row, 1956
On May 7, in historic downtown Jersey City, Tachair Bookshoppe hosted a fascinating, multimedia lecture by Dr. Jeff Friedman. “Weidman’s Lynchtown: American Dialectics, Moral Questions and the Art of Persuasion” considered Weidman’s work from a dazzling array of perspectives including Laban Movement Analysis, Piaget’s ideas on the development of morality in children, and Cicero’s importance of gesture in Oratory.
Nimbus Dance Works dancer, Yuko Monden, demonstrated movement from Lynchtown as Dr. Friedman related them to Laban’s concepts of free flow, bound flow, weight, spoking and arcing. The entrance walk of the lynch mob is an example of “bound flow”, while Monden’s final exit as she leaps off the stage is “free flow.” Using archival footage, Friedman also showed how the lynch mob’s entrance creates a “wall of movement” that physically and emotionally separates the audience from the victim.
Dr. Friedman went on to discuss Weidman’s early interest in comedy and satire. Archival photos of The Happy Hypocrite (1931) and The School for Husbands (1933) (choreographed with Doris Humphrey) were used as examples. Dr. Friedman’s comments on the social significance of satire were especially interesting.
The lecture was followed by a lively discussion on a wide range of topics including the psychological challenges faced by performers in portraying such evil, the choice of the smallest dancer to portray “the Incitor” character of the mob, how the dances in Atavisms (Stock Exchange, Bargain Counter, and Lynchtown) relate to current events, mob behavior, and how best to teach about fascism.
If you missed Dr. Friedman’s lecture, you still have one more opportunity to attend on May 23 at 7pm at the Highland Park Public Library, 31 North Highland Park, Highland Park, NJ. For live performances of Lynchtown, don’t miss Nimbus Dance Works’ Jersey City spring season, “UNPLUGGED” May 30,31, and June 1 at the Barrow Mansion, 83 Wayne Street, Jersey City.
Words by Nadira Hall