Performing Nothingness

Choreographer Aileen Mapes's new dance is inspired by the Italian concept of cultured idleness.

By Adam Castañeda May 30, 2014

Ashley Carfine, Joshua Eguia, Danielle Artis, Aileen Mapes, and Liannet Garcia

Image: Vipul Divecha

Dolce Far Niente
May 30 & 31 at 8
$17 (suggested)
Suchu Dance
3480 Ella Blvd.

When one door closes, another opens. Last weekend, Ashley Horn’s Woolgathering marked the final performance in the long-running HopeWerks residency program at the Hope Stone Dance Company’s former headquarters. This weekend a new residency program launches at Suchu Dance in Garden Oaks with the premiere of Houston dancer/choreographer Aileen Mapes’s Dolce Far Niente.

The title is an old Italian expression meaning “the sweet idleness of nothing”—a perfect evocation of the relaxed Mediterranean spirit. As Mapes points out, our own culture is far less sympathetic to the restorative potential of idleness. It’s especially hard work doing nothing when you live the helter-skelter existence of a working dance artist. “As a dancer, you’re teaching at six different places, and dealing with different parents, different employers, driving from one place to another,” explains Mapes, who holds an MFA in dance and a BA in sociology. She became interested in exploring the French concept of the flâneur (literally, stroller)—a peripatetic aesthete who observes the city while remaining detached from it—after considering the makeshift nature of her own life in dance. “I’ve moved to a different house almost every year of my life for the past nine years,” she tells me. “That was great. I needed that. I know what it’s like to live out of a suitcase, and live in a city all the time.”

Aileen Mapes

Image: David Brown

Dolce Far Niente will be the first time since 2006 that Mapes has presented an evening-length performance. She shares an aesthetic philosophy with Suchu Dance, a postmodern dance company founded in 1998 by artistic director Jennifer Wood. Mapes began working with the company right out of college and rejoined last year after graduate work and a sabbatical from dance. “Working with Suchu…helped me develop the idea that we’re not just dancers, but moving artists,” she says. “We collaborate and problem-solve together, to seek out not just a new show, but new working methods.”

With such a keen insight into collaborative choreography, it’s only natural that Mapes’s show developed not as a solo piece, but as a group work. Her dancers include Danielle Artis, Ashley Carfine, Joshua Eguia, Liannet Garcia, and Travis Mesman. The concert will feature contemporary movement, but movement shaped by Mapes’s particular terpsichorean concerns. “I’m always in search of finding weight,” she says. “I’m not just interested in partnering, but creating fast interaction with true weight. I’m also interested in patterns, which an audience member can see in space and not just on the floor.”

The performance features artwork by Varina Rush, as well as what Mapes describes as a few unexpected surprises, for a multimedia dance experience that immerses the spectator from the moment they walk in the door. “I want the audience to experience the pleasure of watching dance, but perhaps also find some tools to go home with to find their own moments.”

Show Comments