In Winifred Haun's 'Press on, Regardless,' Links Hall's swinging door is fertile ground for images of resilience and sticktoitiveness

Times have changed and the best thing we can do as humans is to adapt to those changes, imagine new realities, build from where we are and reflect the times. Winifred Haun & Dancers premiered “Press on, Regardless” via Facebook Live on March 5 as a part of their mostly digital 2021 season. A mighty crew of roughly 50 viewers chimed in, including myself from my phone, sitting on the curb in Phoenix, Arizona.

In the opening scene, seven dancers intermittently performed modern dance phrases, choreographed and directed by the esteemed Winifred Haun in an ombre of mountain-toned red, orange and mustard wide legged jumpers. One by one they appeared in a doorway at Links Hall, moving with a similarly concave upper body, and visually introduced themselves, with a pushable door in the background. As my focus pounced from dancer to doorway, I thought about the ways I use the word press: What’s pressing? Why are you so pressed? Pressing my clothes.

The dictionary defines press as, “to move or cause to move into a position of contact with something by exerting continuous physical force.” After finding this definition, the opening door felt like the ideal illustration. The word “press” also reminds me of a place of not enough; be it time, space, energy, strength. Anyway, I digress.

Where there are barriers, there is also light. Winifred Haun & Dancers pushed through the repeated physical forces that presented themselves, from doorway beams, to narrow viewfinders in cameras, to COVID protocols, to working with new technologies. Various canons and styled, contemporary phrases persisted with a combination of gestural and lyrical arms.  The dancers’ shadows took on an aesthetic of their own, percolating an echo to a lovely accumulation in the choreography. Above all, the light came through.

The performance reached a summit in the final scene which was perhaps the shiniest in terms of special effects and experimentation. Two dancers appeared to swim around a vortex in a graceful motion to the sound of off-kilter piano notes—nestling into the sides, folds and spaces of one another like a family in bed at night. They levitated by working with the confines of the ground, the wall and one another. Swiveling back-to-back, foot-to-back, head-to-leg and virtually every position except face-to-face. It was a sobering moment, witnessing how the body makes accommodations when giants stand in the way: injury, poverty, weight, sickness, systemic racism, a whole pandemic. My mind circled back to the opening doorway scene and that pedestrian push door. What do you do when the weight of the world is too much? You find another path and “Press on, Regardless.” Despite it all, Winifred Haun & Dancers help us to stay encouraged.