Many veterans want to be writers or filmmakers, while others aspire to be photographers or painters. But few, I’m guessing, dream of becoming ballet dancers or directors of contemporary dance troupes.
Veteran artists use their art to explore and comment on their war experiences. But how do you tell a war story using dance?
Roman Baca, the director and manager of the Exit12 Dance Company, is a USMC veteran of Iraq. Prior to joining the Marines, he was a ballet dancer and instructor. Below is his account of how he started Exit12 :
Five years ago, 2007, I was still enlisted in the Marines, and fulfilling my end of contract in the IRR, Inactive Ready Reserve. I had purchased a condo in Connecticut as an investment, and had a secure job as a CAD technician for a firm that manufactured stormwater chambers. Five years ago in February was the day that my girlfriend Lisa, who is now my wife, sat me down in my condo and told me that things were not ok. She told I was different from serving in Fallujah and that she couldn’t handle my mood-swings, lack of purpose, anxiety, and depression. She challenged me to make a change in my life, and asked me what I would do if I could do anything in the world. I told her I would start a dance company, that it was something I always wanted to do, thinking that she would call me an idiot and move on. Instead she said, “Then why don’t we do it?” So we, along with a ballerina she knew from before, started working on my choreography at a dance studio in NYC. That studio wasn’t far from exit 12 off of FDR drive, so to be true to our small beginnings, we called ourselves Exit12.
Baca’s statement speaks to the desire to serve, related to the desire to see combat, those strong compulsions that grip so many young men and women of all backgrounds, including dancers. It also speaks to the love and wisdom of his wife, who recognized how different and unhappy Baca was upon his return from Iraq, confronted him about it, and stood by him while helping him reach a better place. Third, Baca’s statement raises the notion that art is both therapeutic and a reason-for-being.
Exit12 uses dance to explore martial themes and contemporary events marked by hostility and violence. A dance titled “Conflicted” addresses US military attitudes toward women in the Muslim countries in which they have been fighting. Another, “Re-E-volution,” dramatizes the Arab Spring revolts. Ambitious subjects, certainly, and as one watches the mind contemplates the link between theme and action. Dance, it seems to me, is both highly literal and highly suggestive. Deprived of words, the dancers convey meaning through gesture and pantomine. Deprived of words, the swirl of movement and sound creates space for speculation and imagination.
UPDATE 23 Feb 2013:
“A Dancer’s Tour of Duty,” a long “as told to” story in the Village Voice featuring Roman Baca, the impresario of Exit12, the NYC/Connecticut based modern dance company I wrote of in an early post:
From dancer to Marine to Iraq to dancer to Iraq. Wonderful vignettes of both a Marine’s life and a dancer’s.