Professional dancers are often noticeable for their posture and carriage. So when four men walked onto the stage at the BAM Fishman Space, it was easy to tell which two were trained and which were untrained. As each man took his turn standing in the middle of a white square, it was the start of Lucy Guerin’s Untrained, an hour-long investigation of the differences between dancers and non-dancers.
Of the ninety men that applied for the job of “untrained dancer”, forty auditioned (one wonders what the audition was like) and the two chosen were Michael Dunbar, a communications designer, and Jake Shackleton, an environmental engineer. The two trained dancers are Alisdair Macindoe and Ross McCormack. They worked with Guerin for a week before the performances began.
Dressed in sweats, t-shirts, and sneakers, the four men take turns doing a variety of exercises such as standing on one leg, jumping straight up into the air, complex ballet combinations, and rolling on the floor. The trained dancers gracefully navigate through these, perhaps relying on muscle memory to accomplish each. Inevitably, the audience laughed at the untrained dancers’ attempts at the more challenging choreography. It was fascinating to observe a limb desperately trying to collaborate with another part of the body. How foreign and terrifying it must have been. But they were shameless. Their courage and commitment – and ability to occasionally laugh at themselves – were admirable.
In addition to exploring differences among the use of their bodies, the men shared insecurities with the audience (one is self-conscious about his chest hair, another worries about his weight), offered interpretations of each other’s improvisations, and talked about their fathers. Brief films of each performer revealed something new about them (Michael Dunbar loves drinking water from his hands; Jake Shackleton has a twin). These offerings blur the lines between the trained and untrained. The audience gets a glimpse of their personalities – a welcome addition to their performances – and learn that they’re all funny, reflective, and articulate.
Does it really matter if some are more coordinated than others? In the end, we see them as people, not as skilled or unskilled movers. With their stories, concerns, and quirks, they’re human, and they’re a lot like us.