A,E,I,O, You, and Sometimes Why
A,E,I,O, You, and Sometimes Why
Apr 21, 2023
Choreographer* and performer: Amber Sloan
*Additional choreographic sampling, in order of appearance: Diane Yates, José Limón, Heinz Poll, Keely Garfield, Sara Hook, Doug Elkins, James Waring, David Parker, and Linda Lehovec
Dramaturgy: Stephanie Acosta
Costumes: Pei-Chi Su and Amber Sloan
Video collage: Amber Sloan, Sound collage: Sam Crawford and Amber Sloan
Music: Judy Garland; Paula Matthesun; Donna Summer; The Contours; Ella Fitzgerald; Johann Sebastian Bach; C & C Music Factory; Earth, Wind & Fire; Maurice Ravel; Marc Ribot; Franz Schubert; Evadne Baker; Sergei Rachmaninoff; Dmitri Shostakovich; Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky; Irma Thomas; Oren Amabarchi; Nina Simone; The Temptations; Bobby Darin
Dancers are no strangers to vulnerability. They put their bodies on display for a living and draw upon personal experiences to convey universal themes. Amber Sloan’s A, E, I, O, You, and Sometimes Why pulls audiences into her personal history through poignant memories which shaped her career. Both nostalgic and gritty, her evening-length solo is part love letter to her past self, part manifesto on the realities of life as a performing artist.
During the performance, a screen shows clips of Sloan as a child dancing tap, jazz, ballet, and hip hop with infectious joy. She suddenly appears onstage in real time to ask difficult questions, and her carefree feeling quickly dissipates. “What if you forget all the steps? What if you have a panic attack? What if you are a bad dancer?” Windmilling arms and swinging legs mimic the tumult of thoughts in her mind, pushing her off balance as her questions become statements. “You are a bad dancer. You will forget the steps.” Sloan throws herself into hopping turns that arrest in surprising suspensions as she fights these intrusive thoughts. She presses her body firmly as if her hands could contain her growing anxiety. “Stop it,” she demands. Sloan sits and addresses the audience: “It wasn’t always so hard to be here. When I was younger, I loved it.”
A, E, I, O, You, and Sometimes Why hits close to home for many performers. As dancers go through years of training and development, the fundamental delight in movement can sometimes give way to self-doubt, disappointment, and nagging questions of purpose. In a field as fiercely competitive as dance, it is often one's inner strength and drive which sustains or collapses a career. Positing a gold number three balloon on stage, Sloan earnestly begins performing snippets of past choreography seen on the screen moments before. Dancing increasingly fast and manic, Sloan’s inner dialogue accelerates as does her silent mantra: ‘do more, be more, nothing is enough’. Sloan uses the balloons as markers in her timeline. When she places a number four next to the three, her ballistic motions slow down. Grimacing in discomfort, compression tape zig zags up her legs and arms.
In program notes, Sloan describes her solo as “part preparation for battle, part celebration of maturity.” She removes her jumper, revealing her torso lined with tape. Her battle scars are evident as we view a body trained to keep pushing itself beyond limits, battling injury along with disparagement. Crumbling to the floor, her movements become disjointed and insectile. The pain of a dancer’s injury is apparent, but does not prevail.
Sloan’s work is not all anguish. There is humor too. Sloan dons a glittering sequined dress, sneakers and boxing gloves. She runs in place, repeating a choreographic montage of career highlights with a joyful grin, to suddenly swat at the balloons in defiance. But when she rearranges them to make the number forty-three, her pistoning legs suddenly take her nowhere. Running from the reality of aging- a painful and often shameful matter for dancers- Sloan’s rebellion is palpable. Music gives way to recorded readings of reviews she has received over the years. Those accolades layer with her previous self-deprecating statements, becoming a battle-cry launching her into one final attempt at dominance. Sloan strikes the balloons with her gloves, falling when they bounce back unscathed. Each time, she rises. Finally, Sloan embraces the balloons, her limbs tangling in their strings as she revisits the wild, windmilling of the evening’s opening choreography. In a career full of heartache and exhilaration, acceptance and gratitude triumph.
Sloan’s mastery as a dancer and choreographer are evident in her wit, charm and unabashed authenticity. A, E, I, O, You, and Sometimes Why is a journey Sloan graciously invites audiences to experience with her. She displays the fear, doubt, and perseverance specific to her career as a dancer, with raw honesty. Beyond the adversity, her sharing is a gift for all past, present, and future dance artists.