“Middlegame”: A Dance That Has Stood the Test of Time

Alexandra Berger dancing "Middlegame."
Dusan Tynek Dance Theatre. Choreography: Dusan Tynek.
Joyce Theater, January 2017.
Dancers: Alexandra Berger, Ann Chiaverini, Jessica Cipiriani, Gary Champi, Nicole Restani, Ned Sturgis, Jake Sczypek, Tim Ward.
Photo by Ian Douglas.

Dusan Tynek’s “Middlegame” goes beyond the artistic to shed light on some of the political and gender tensions we’re currently facing.

As a female dancer in the work of a male choreographer—Dusan Tynek’s “Middlegame,”—I am fortunate to have experienced a dynamic of healthy equality and mutual respect during the creation process. Power, gender and sexuality are astutely represented in the work, which is often billed as abstract, and those ideas come across clearly within a process that is incredibly humane. It is possible. We as artists observe the world through the lens of our personal experience, and I have always felt truly lucky to have been allowed the platform of the stage and the steps of others to speak my own deep truth. The work of “Middlegame” can be interpreted by each dancer and by each viewer through their own lens. Those lenses may change over time, as cultural moments change. The following depiction is my view through my current lens:

We eight dancers are pitted against each other in two teams—black and white. Some might say that it’s already obvious. We march in and chaos ensues. This used to feel like a dream sequence, visitation to a past life where people did and said ridiculous things because we weren’t living in an enlightened, educated society. Now, after the riots and the rallies of the past few years, and the realization that we haven’t come so far after all, it feels less like an expression of inherited generational trauma and more like living in the present day. When did we become so divided?

There is sensuality and implied intoxication in the choreography, and there are those of us who take chances on love and those of us who yearn for the ability to do so. A tango number ends and we march forward to collect the detritus. A lady looks for a seat and chivalry is dead. A woman victorious becomes a woman scorned becomes a woman pitting herself against another because somehow we as women are still figuring out how to come together to lift each other up. I’m reminded that desperation brings out the worst in people, most of the time.

 
Hasn’t society (or at least my mother) always told me that my beauty and my power are one and the same?
 

Here’s where things start to feel like truth is stranger than fiction.

A new dance begins. A male dancer, in black, against me, in white. We may or may not be dealing with some sexual tension, or maybe we’re just friends having a good time while these other parties march in a militant way around us. He’s cute, and I’m innocent, and hasn’t society (or at least my mother) always told me that my beauty and my power are one and the same? The next thing you know he’s turned all aggressive and he runs away with my crown. I am raped of my trust and my confidence. History has a way of repeating itself.

Middlegame: black and white team
“Middlegame,” Choreography by Dusan Tynek. Photo by Ian Douglas.
Middlegame: Face off
“Middlegame,” Choreography by Dusan Tynek. Photo by Ian Douglas.

I dance a solo inclusive of stoic anger, despair and a very clear moment of “Time’s up, b****es.” A moment that seems to reflect so many existing tensions, and I can’t help but feel like my list is growing. I go slightly mad but really there’s no time for that, so we all run around and next thing you know the black team is marching in to some ominous music and we’re paired off again.

 
It’s a nice thought that we might be able to look past our political differences and come together as a human race.
 

Another tango, and this time we all get to dance. Colors mix, genders mix, I reconnect with my adversary and it’s all in the past. It’s a nice idea that time heals our differences. One by one, dancers get dragged off until only two are left (black and white, male and female, again). When my adversary sets off to begin his solo, I steal his chair out from under him and we are truly even. He dances beautifully and it’s hard not to love him after everything. I think we look to the recent past with deep nostalgia that we might have never imagined. It’s a nice thought that we might be able to look past our political differences and come together as a human race. It’s a nice thought.

The teams divide and we march. I have one final meeting with my adversary and I can tell you that re-staging this piece during the current political climate made it all but impossible not to feel like we were acting out some of the cultural tensions of the last few years—political tensions, gender-based tensions and everything in between. No one listens to the other. No one seems to notice that our actions are actually indicating that we are saying exactly the same thing. We shake and we scream and really we’re just making fools of ourselves but we seem to think we’re proving a point. Everyone else continues to march around in patterns that only make sense to themselves. We only hear things the way we want to hear them. We are creatures of habit. Change requires huge amounts of effort and collective understanding.

Our two groups face off one final time. This time we all get the shakes and it devolves into a canon of dance moves. It’s hard to stay angry when you’re dancing. We meet and we agree to disagree, and we pull out all of the stops until it’s over. The others collapse one by one either from defeat or exhaustion. I’m directed to stay standing and smile. All I want to do is cry.

Alexandra Berger holding her crown in "Middlegame"
“Middlegame,” Choreography by Dusan Tynek. Photo by Ian Douglas.
Middlegame: shake and scream
“Middlegame,” Choreography by Dusan Tynek. Photo by Ian Douglas.