Dancer Seth Wilson offers a (mostly) wordless response to police violence

In '8:46,' created in collaboration with the King Arts Center, Wilson embraces the art of dance to capture his emotional reaction to the police murder of George Floyd

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Seth Wilson in a still image from "8:46"

Seth Wilson opens “8:46,” a new video created in collaboration with the King Arts Center, with a brief introduction, relaying the ways dance “allows us to put a voice to our struggle” before silencing himself for the remainder of the clip. But even without words, Wilson’s movements speak volumes, the dancer beginning slowly and then growing increasingly animated, a steady build meant to mirror a protest growing increasingly chaotic, he said.

“I was kind of improvising in the moment, like any artist does when they go to do their work, where you get into a zone,” said Wilson, the artistic director of Columbus Dance Theatre. “What was in my head was, ‘I’m at a peaceful protest and things just amplify and escalate,’ so I started off light in my movements, and then I let it build.”

As the clip starts, Wilson lifts a single fist, and then his right leg starts moving in time to the bass-heavy beat. His fist soon follows, pumping the air with increased agitation. And then both fists, the dual propulsion appearing to lift Wilson’s entire body off of the ground. A series of spins and twirls follow, Wilson moving both with urgency and studied grace. He moves forward, then retreats, then moves forward, finally taking a knee and again raising his right fist wordlessly to the sky.

The dance portion of the clip lasts just 46 seconds, but resonates significantly longer. (Wilson was one of eight dancers who contributed a 46-second video to the piece, hence the title “8:46,” which is meant to recall the eight minutes and 46 seconds that Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of George Floyd, killing him.)

“In the past, I feel anytime there’s been some kind of social injustice, the dance world, in particular, has addressed it,” said Wilson, a New York City native who previously created dance movements in response to events such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. “I think it’s just a thing we do as artists, because that’s our life, dance is our life. So when something happens, how do we address it? We go into the studio, and these are the things on our mind, and we make art out of it.”

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For Wilson, the video of Floyd’s death, while heartbreaking, was nothing new, and he said his initial reaction to it fell along the lines of “again?” “It’s something that’s been happening for far too long,” said Wilson, who recounted a time he was approached outside of Columbus Dance Theatre’s Downtown space by a police officer, who approached Wilson with his weapon drawn and later told the dancer, who is Black, that he “fit a description.” “I’m from New York, and right before I moved to Columbus the police there killed an unarmed Black man in his vehicle (Sean Bell) the day before he was going to get married. I’ve been a victim of police abusing their judgment, and when you see it happen all the time, it just feels like, again? And when you grow up with that happening all of the time, it’s like, again?

“So it was my experiences, and everything else around this project that moved me. I can’t make it to all of the protests, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t lived it, or that I don’t have anything to say.”

Even if it’s being said without a word.