When one generation’s trash is increasingly the next generation’s environmental disaster, a critique of consumerism employing the vocabulary of the landfill seems a timely gesture. Thinking along these lines led Seldoms artistic director Carrie Hanson to choreograph Monument in 2008, and to reprise the project this fall. “The same issues still plague us,” she says. “If I grade myself I’m doing worse.”
Hanson’s vision opens in Staten Island’s now defunct Fresh Kills Landfill before shifting to a nearby shopping mall. Dancers heave imaginary burdens on levered arms, lowering and prostrating themselves like servants before an invisible deity—perhaps the invisible hand itself. Mimicking trash, other dancers contort and interlock at uncomfortable angles, making themselves increasingly compact, a thin layer of grime. When machines converge on one piece of refuse—the shaved head of another dancer—and mime compression amid rising pounding sounds, it elicits the ruthless ugliness of reckless consumption as a self-evident truth.
But also self-evident is the desire involved when, for instance, a dancer on her knees arches backwards longingly in all directions, bringing objects to her chest, clutching them like treasure then tossing them, finally supplicating, exhausted, hands empty. Later dancers rifle each other’s pockets without making eye contact; their fleeting relationships are motivated only by a common urge to use and discard other people. It’s a cynical interpretation of what it means to be a consumer and a citizen that, if accurate, makes us utterly vulnerable.