The Washington Post

Nora Gibson’s ‘Vested Souls’ at Dance Place brings tedium of office life to the brink

Nora Gibson, Jessica Warchal-King, and Eiren Shuman performing “Vested Souls.” (Photo by Bill Hebert/ Dance Place)

For those of us who spend our days toiling at a computer in a cramped cubicle, Nora Gibson’s “Vested Souls” is a dance that should resonate with us. Its intended purpose is to highlight the “elegant struggle of the Everyman,” and to lay bare the frustrations of the life of a 9-to-5 office worker.

The piece, performed Saturday at Dance Place, opens with a stark tableau in which three dancers — dressed in suits and sheath dresses worthy of a meeting on Capitol Hill — stare blankly at the audience. A fourth dancer lies facedown on the floor, a surrender that is perhaps a symbol of how the others feel inside.

From there, Gibson aims to depict the tedium of this lifestyle, and she has logically chosen repetition as the choreographic device that would best accomplish that. Almost every movement sequence in the work is seen multiple times, back-to-back. And certain movements recur throughout the dance, including an arm that swings like a pendulum, a wrist that’s flicked high overhead and a leg that brushes long and high behind the dancer like a spoke from a wheel’s hub.

Monotony is exactly what Gibson was going for, and that is indeed what she achieved. The problem, however, is that all this flatness presumably is supposed to make the audience feel something: sadness, desolation or even sympathy. But instead, it was just boring.

The work might have been improved by a cast of performers who could inject more nuance and depth into the characters. The dancing was exceptionally clean — the balances were stable, the lines were rarely askew and transition steps were executed with utmost efficiency. But their attempts at minimalism didn’t register as they intended. They didn’t appear numb or alienated, they just seemed uninvested.

Nora Gibson and Jessica Warchal-King performing “Vested Souls.” (Photo by Bill Hebert/ Dance Place)
Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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