When creating a dance, what do choreographers tap for material? And is it important that this comes across in the work, or is it OK to remove it, like a balloon from a paper mâche globe?
Contemporary dance casts such a wide net that it’s impossible to typify the process for choosing subject matter (if any), or how much of the original impetus is legible in the end result. Some performances I saw last week show how some artists have dealt with this process: Karole Armitage at Cedar Lake, Donna Uchizono at BAC/The Kitchen, and Christopher Williams at DNA.
Armitage’s company performed under the auspices of, interestingly enough, the World Science Festival. Three Theories‘ sections — “Relativity,” “Quantum,” and “String” — were inspired by relativity, quantum mechanics, and string theory as outlined in Brian Greene’s book, The Elegant Universe. Armitage purportedly incorporated specific concepts from each to create movement. I can’t say that I could read any of them, but I felt a kind of progression from section to section — after what Armitage noted was the “big bang,” from a searching, trial and error feel, through more organized and focused intent between the dancers, to organized lines and patterns. They changed from black bikinis to white tanks and briefs, which seemed to signal some form of enlightenment. But its trajectory was gratifying to watch, especially on her incredible dancers, whether or not the mental blueprint came across.
Christopher Williams departs from most of his peers by dipping into history, religion, and literature for source material. His opuses on female and male saints have themselves gained some legend in the dance world for their ambition in terms of casting, costuming, and overall scale. He showed two new works at DNA: Gobbledygook, in progress, and the premiere of Hen’s Teeth. The first contrasted a naked Adam Weinert throwing himself against a wall with the commanding Eikazu Nakamura speaking verse to atone for suffering and while doing movement that hovered between ritual and martial arts.
Hen’s Teeth, to music by Gregory Spears performed live by members of Lionheart (and Williams, who also co-designed the costumes with Andy Jordan), deployed a group of women in gorgeous feathered boyshorts, and tops they soon shed. A young man became enamored of one in particular; the rest of the women were put into service as lifters and carriers of the lovebirds. Three crones of Greek myth (graeae) with elaborate crocheted mumps and bumps stamped around, re-emerging at the end with outer shells that resembled armor, with strategic trap doors to reveal a missing breast, a face, a vulnerable inner wrist. As an audience member, Williams gave us a lot of ideas to work with — perhaps too many. Sometimes the dance felt illustrative of, and secondary to, the Breton Requiem’s text being sung. I also think we were too close in the intimate space for the illusion to take hold.
I blogged on Uchizono’s dual-venue work recently, but I didn’t discuss the artist’s seed of an idea for the ambitious work, which was the process of attempting to adopt a child from Nepal. Nothing about this event, or its tangents, were represented literally in the two-part/venue piece, but some of the powerful emotional undercurrents definitely were. Distance, illusion, a specific point of reference, dependence, alienation, the denial of something you want/need, journeys, displacement, mortality, separation, and so much more. Knowing this in advance helped me to process the many feelings implied; this knowledge helped to leave fewer questions unanswered.
Photo: Armitage Gone Dance, “Three Theories,” Choreography: Karole Armitage. Pictured: William Isaac and Emily Wagner. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.