The world premiere of Samuel Hobbs's "Early" investigates the human condition, masked and unmasked
As the audience entered the dimly lit AWOL Warehouse for push/FOLD’s world premiere of Samuel Hobbs’s Early, our first exposure was Hobbs himself, standing completely nude and still in the space. He remained in his stillness until the audience’s bustle of picking a space in the round had ceased.
With a downcast gaze and slightly torqued stance, Hobb’s posture recalled modern day Auguste Rodin’s Adam, a reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. By pointing his fingers to the earth and collapsing in his upper body, Rodin’s Adam contrasts Michelangelo’s God-fearing, enlightened Adam, whose arm stretches towards a classically portrayed God-figure in the sky.
push/FOLD’s “Early” begins with a solo by Samuel Hobbs/Photo by Jingzi Zhao
During Early, Hobbs, who is push/FOLD’s artistic director, gives birth to multiple sides of himself, similar to the multiple interpretations of Adam throughout history. Hobbs has told me about a brief absence from dance when we had talked earlier in the week, and I asked him if Early was about a rebirth of himself. “’Early’ as a rebirth for myself?” he responded. “I think answering that might provide too much of a tangible thing to associate with a piece I’d like people to experience unadulterated.”
And so it went, the wonderful challenge of experiencing contemporary dance unadulterated.
The evening was a collage of duets, involving Hobbs and push/FOLD’s dancers, strung together by increasingly complex transitional periods that offered just as many questions as answers to what the preceding section could have meant and how it related to the following section. That cognitive ambiguity focused attention on the movement and its exploration of aspects of the human condition that are misunderstood or underrepresented in popular culture.
The intimacy of the beginning image continued throughout the dance. push/FOLD dancer Briley Jozwiak made a quiet entrance that foreshadowed the duet that was to follow. Her movements alongside Hobbs, both dancing completely nude, were choreographed yet filled with vulnerability and humanity. There was nothing abrasive about their lack of clothing… no boundaries overstepped. Rather, the choreography and lighting offered the audience a chance to take a break from the everyday task of masking our nature and witness the human body in its freest form, full of nuances and beauty, quiet pain and longing.
Briley Jozwiak and Samuel Hobbes in push/FOLD’s “Early”/Photo by Jingzi Zhao
Jozwiak and Hobbs’s duet floated between two realms of existence—our lives inside the everyday technology-driven world and another that outlines every tone of what it means to be alive inside a human body. The effect came from their mastery of dance technique and that mysterious quality known as “stage presence,” which swallows up the air in the room and locking everyone’s gaze intently on the dancers. In this, the duet was a precursor for the sections of Early to come.
As the Hobbs and Jozwiak duet came to an end, company member Jessica Evans entered into the space carrying Hobb’s clothes, which she offered to him in the same slowed-down tempo that had marked the duet. A certain sadness ensued as Hobbs dressed himself—establishing a physical and metaphorical boundary that now separated himself from everyone in the room. This boundary was complemented by the space Hobbs and Evans kept between themselves, and when they finally collided in movement, a new section of the work began to blossom, bringing with it a melancholy and somewhat frantic spring.
Though the choreography mimicked that of Hobb’s motion during the nude duet, there was an urgency and tenacious grasp in the partnerwork that had not existed between Hobbs and Jozwiak. During the Evans’ duet, the craft of choreographing Early in the round shone through. Off-kilter lifts, rotating and swooping movements that circled the space, and a general sense of shifting planes created an incredibly dynamic performance in a relatively small space. push/FOLD simultaneously ebbs and flows between movement that seems improvisational in nature and the precision of well-rehearsed choreography.
In addition to the minimalist score and choreography, the lighting design was crafted entirely by Hobbs himself, and the result of this one-minded creation was a precisely refined work featuring elements that did not compete with one another. “I don’t think I ever conceived of an idea,” he had said earlier. “Before I am really prompted to act out any creative process, there has usually been a silent upwelling of sounds, images, and sensations that I’ll have compiled over some period of time. Eventually, something tears at me and I feel as if I can’t not do something. I feel as if I don’t get it out, then I am not doing what I am supposed to be doing.”
Samuel Hobbs and Jessica Evans in push/FOLD’s “Early”/Photo by Jingzi Zhao
I asked Hobbs more about his method of creating music after I saw the show. The composition was quite intriguing—a deep bass-heavy and ambiguous soundscape creating a very specific and grounding atmosphere that kept the audience tuned into the same channel as the dancers throughout the duration of the dance. Hobbs explained that his work as a composer is very much rooted in trial and error, and that he “start(s) with a base line, a simple melody or riff, and (tries) out different instruments and sound combinations.” Once he finds something that allows him to see movement, he carries on in that direction until it “feels right.”
It was clear that he had found a sweet spot between the musical composition and the movement concepts within Early. The soundscape helped guide each transition and rooted the dancers and audience into each section. The final duet began with a beautifully crafted transition, in which company dancer and push/FOLD managing director Holly Shaw ran circular laps backwards throughout the square space as Hobbs sliced a straight line down the center, intersecting Shaw’s motion but not distorting the satisfaction of her repetitions. This duet seemed to stand on its own, leaving Shaw’s role in relation to the previous two duets somewhat ambiguous. The open-ended connection to the work as a whole was re-affirming in its own way, perhaps suggesting that not everything within a person’s life must fit together at the edges to be relevant. Early faded out with Shaw and Hobbs continuously shifting one another as a unit from side to side, in an unsettled yet consistent fashion that let the audience wanting more.
The evening offered Hobbs’s keen awareness of how humans exist, both behind closed doors and out in the open. The push/FOLD company transforms these notions into movement while avoiding spectacle, and Early reveals that the way we divulge ourselves is just as human as the way we wear masks.
push/FOLD’s Early continues at 7:30 pm April 26-28, AWOL Warehouse, 513 NE Schuyler St.