Baca was a classical ballet dancer before his enlistment in 2000. In 2005-6, he spent time in Fallujah, Iraq as a machine gunner and fire team leader. When he returned, he and his girlfriend founded Exit 12 Dance Company (New York), and although he says he didn’t intentionally create war-related pieces to begin with, it grew out of his experience and desire to communicate things that aren’t easily communicated with words.
He discovered what I have suspected for some time: that the beauty of movement, the impact of music and the violence of war can be put together with sometimes devastating effects. He says: “Dance pieces about loss and brutality can cut to the heart of human experience.” For him and others, dance has proved a powerful tool in dealing with the emotional and psychological distress of war.
To me this is fascinating. It’s part of why I’ve wanted to turn True Surrender into a movie (with an ending showing the courage to overcome and thrive). And in my attempts to do something similar – tell a story using taiko drums and the movement of the body (see Taiko True) – I have considered working with a dance choreographer or company. This pretty much cinches it!
Some of Exit 12’s Pieces:
Habibi Hhaloua (2009, the company’s first piece) – Arabic for ‘my beautiful, you have my eyes’ – is about a US Marine on patrol in Iraq. While dancers performed on stage, embodying soldiers’ preoccupations with courage, death, and home, Marines patrolled the back of the theatre, instilling into the audience the fear and trepidation of conflict.
For Homecoming, Exit12 recorded real letters that were written to soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan from loved ones back home, and choreographed a piece set to the messages. The dancers also evoked what the letters didn’t say.
Mutual understanding was the focus of Conflict(ed). ‘The performance starts with a single dancer in an abaya, the traditional Iraqi garb,’ says Baca. ‘She is coming to terms with having to wear the covering, and then it transitions to an American military woman coming to terms with having to wear the uniform. It pits two military personnel and two women in abayas together in this kind of conflicted quartet. The performance culminates with the dancers just trying to communicate on a very basic level.’