Can You Bring It is a sumptuous, intelligent work about the beauty and infinity of the creative process.
Following the evolution of the titular groundbreaking dance piece, D-Man in the Waters, in the three decades since its release, Can You Bring It weaves together three iterations of the performance alongside interviews with key figures in its construction. Beginning even before its inception, with the artistic and romantic partnership of Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, the documentary chronicles the tragic impact of the AIDS epidemic on the pair and their dance troupe, as well as the death-defying legacy of the work that emerged from that traumatic period.
From its earliest moments, Tom Hurwitz and Rosalynde LeBlanc’s film asks viewers to leave any preconceived notions they might have about dance at the door. “This is not a balletic piece,” explains Associate Professor Rosalynde LeBlanc Loo: “It’s lyrical, but it’s athletic.” The film more or less follows the same principle, less concerned with the ornamental side of the dance, and instead delving into the mechanics of how exactly the piece came to be, on both a macro, cultural scale and the micro scale, deconstructing individual moves and sequences. The piece is inseparable from the context it was created in, but rather than offering up some stuffy history lesson, Can You Bring It emphasises the direct impact of this history on the creative process. In a particularly elegant move, the filmmakers show how that creative process is adapted by contemporary artists, with the work shaping a new generation of dancers just as much as they shape it.
It’s in one of these detailed deconstructions of the piece that the film’s true emotional significance emerges. A man holds a woman’s hand, guiding her as she runs up another’s spine. She leaps, suspended in the air for one harrowing moment, before being caught safely. To audiences, especially those uninitiated in dance, it’s a stupefying move — it may only last an instant, over before it’s even really begun, but for a beautiful, terrifying second, the dancer entrusts her body entirely to another. In retrospect, the original dancer admits, the move, though nerve-wracking, was never that dangerous. Her leap was understandably cautious, only really leaving the other dancer’s back for a second before being caught. However, in the countless productions since, dancers have taken more risks, each incarnation pushing the piece, and their bodies, to the limit, leaping further each time, until the move becomes a deliberate, breathtaking dive. With every new iteration, D-Man is a piece that becomes increasingly ambitious, building on earlier iterations and, as Can You Bring It so perfectly captures, this is an act of empowerment. For every dancer who leaps, trusting in others to catch them, there is a new generation spawned, trusting in their instincts and their communities, willing to leap higher and further than ever before. The process is a mutual one, and by probing into the minutiae of this process, the film becomes an ode to the creative process and the exact ways art can impact, and be impacted by, the world around it.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | July 2021.