Daniel Linehan: It’s Definitely About Something

There is a point in choreographer Daniel Linehan’s solo piece Not About Everything, presented by Velocity Dance Center, where he breathlessly shouts, “What in the fuck is this thing about Daniel?” He’s been spinning in a circle for more than 20 minutes, pivoting from foot to foot with impressive ease. At this point the audience might be asking the same question. Even when he claims that the piece is, “not about anything,” it’s clear that it really is about something. What that something is, is wide open for audience interpretation.

In The Karaoke Dialogues: Seattle Trial, Linehan works on a piece that will be adapted into a larger work. Using adapted text from novels such as Crime and Punishment, Don Quixote and Frankenstein, Linehan takes the audience through different stages of the crime experience, with headers such as ‘VERDICT 1” and “DELIBERATIONS” projected onto the back wall. Karaoke Dialogues starts off the seven dancers sitting in a line downstage with their backs to the audience. White shapes are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage, moving around erratically, until the dancers get up and walk to center stage and start with a passage from Don Quixote, “When Sancho became governor of the island he ordered that no beggar should sing about miracles…” They take turns reciting, and strike various freeform poses, with segmented movements, stiff at the joints, and they sway back and forth, arms swirling and swooping.

It soon becomes clear that the performers are reading off a screen above the audience—their gazes are constantly up. As the title suggests, a karaoke of dialogue. The piece is as much about dialogue as it is dance, but then what is the difference—Linehan overwhelms with text, but the choregraphy is just as much of a dialogue; tight, small and quick movements of the arms and limbs suggest restriction, while sweeping, reaching, softer motions bring to mind longing, and reaching out towards the larger idea of freedom.

Not About Everything is Linehan’s 2007 solo. In it he spins in a clockwise circle for more than a half an hour, demonstrating immense control, and what must have been hours and hours of practice. Walking out onto the stage to stand in the middle of a ring of books, magazines and newspapers. The audience seating has been arranged in a larger ring around that. Everyone is looking at each other and Linehan is at the center of it all. He begins to spin—slowly at first, then picks up speed, but never loses control. He pivots along in the circle, keeping a steady pattern with his feet, while reciting bits of text along with a recording: “This is not about therapy…This is not about the human content pile…This is not about everything…This is not about boredom.” And on and on and on.

He takes a water bottle out of his jacket pocket and drinks some. He pulls out a letter and reads it. He takes off his jacket and pants. He signs a petition for Amnesty International and asks an audience member to drop it in the post after the show. All the while he keeps spinning. There are times when the piece becomes boring. How long can you watch someone spin? But this is why the chairs are arranged in a circle. You start looking around, appraising everyone else’s reactions, watching what they unconsciously do with their hands, their feet, their facial expressions. Sometimes you catch another person’s eye. Are you embarrassed to be caught with a drifting attention? It is a completely different perspective that subtly forces the audience to interact, even if they don’t realize it. Eventually Linehan breaks free from the circle of information (the books, magazines, newspapers) and unwaveringly moves down to the floor then back up to standing several times. It’s a show of discipline, and an impressive one at that.

We live in a world where we are bombarded by information every single day. Text messages, emails, billboards, notes—words come and go at a rapid rate that is often hard to retain. But there are other forms of communication, an entire language of art, with each discipline acting as its own dialect. What Linehan is trying to communicate through his work is not entirely clear, but the juxtaposition between his choreography and text opens the door on a conversation about the ways we communicate, and the effectiveness of the methods we choose. 

Above: Daniel Linehan prepares to spin in his solo piece, Not About Everything. Photo by Joseph Lambert.