Monday, November 5, 2018

Cerrudo's Little Gems

Pacific Northwest Ballet company members in Alejandro Cerrudo's Silent Ghost
photo @ Angela Sterling

In March, 2016, I was sitting in McCaw Hall, waiting for the curtain to go up on Pacific Northwest Ballet’s annual contemporary bill, Director’s Choice.  A dear friend had passed away the day before, and I was filled with both sadness and anticipation for the program that was about to begin. I love contemporary ballet.

I don’t remember where it appeared on the bill, but when Price Suddarth ran through the house and jumped up on the stage, the beginning of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump, I was shaken from my own moodiness and I set off on the kind of emotional journey I crave at a performance: I transcended my grief. Rather, I lost my self in what I saw to be a contemplation of all the possibilities that lay before us as human beings.

Does that sound high falutin’?

Maybe, but it’s an accurate description of my experience of Cerrudo’s work. And that’s why I was excited to learn that PNB would present another of his ballets, Silent Ghost, as part of its 2018 All Premiere program.
PNB Principal Dancer Leta Biasucci and company dancers in Kyle Davis' A Dark and Lonely Place
photo @ Angela Sterling

Ghost was sandwiched between PNB soloist Kyle Davis’ ambitious world premiere, A Dark and Lonely Place, and a hilarious sendup of pretentious arts writers like me called Cacti, from choreographer Alexander Ekman. Cerrudo’s work was quieter, far more intimate, a palate cleanser if you will.

PNB provided no choreographer’s statement or any other information about the ballet in its printed program, except to say Silent Ghost was the third piece by Cerrudo to be presented by the company. That left me free to experience it any way I wanted. That is to say, I could immerse myself in Michael Korsch’s exquisite and atmospheric lighting, and the cast’s equally exquisite and atmospheric performances.

I saw two different casts, but each included Lucien Postlewaite, Noelani Pantastico, Elizabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald performing two pas de deux that serve as bookends in this dance; for me they were also examples of how we humans interact with one another.
PNB Principal Dancers Noelani Pantastico and Lucien Postlewaite in Silent Ghost
photo @ Angela Sterling

The first duet featured a kind of powerful coming together, exemplified by an amazing lift: the male dancer bends at the waist, with the woman balanced on his back. She extends her legs back behind her, veed out from her body. Here’s a photo, but really, you need to see this in person. 

For me, this wasn’t only technically stunning; it really illustrated the kind of interplay that we bring to our relationships. (I should say that I saw both couples perform both pas de deux, in two separate performances; the effect was the same.)

Cerrudo has a great talent for creating interesting movements. I loved what I can only describe as a prone ‘wave.’ On opening night, Noelani Pantastico and Leah Merchant lay in a line, Merchant’s feet next to Pantastico’s head. Pantastico started to ripple, from her feet up through her legs, lower back, arms and head, then Merchant echoed this wave of movement.

The dancers kneel in a row facing the audience, then bend their arms at elbows with fingers pointed upwards. Forearms pass in front of faces, heads tilt in unison, then syncopation. It resembled a kind of sign language, but I couldn't translate it. No matter; it was fascinating to watch.
PNB dancers Dylan Wald and Elizabeth Murphy in Little mortal jump
photo @ Angela Sterling

Finally, as with Little mortal jump, Cerrudo creates an ending duet that reminded me how fragile our relationships can be. In Little mortal jump, Elizabeth Murphy and Dylan Wald dance a duet of possibilities; they spin around the floor, and soon the set begins to spin with them, opening wider and wider, inviting me to contemplate the next step in life. In Silent Ghost, the two dancers circled one another, establishing their bond and questioning it at the same time. This dance isn't really about hope and possibility; it's about our coming together then moving apart.
Wald and Murphy in Silent Ghost
photo @ Angela Sterling

Silent Ghost doesn’t really have a narrative; I’m prone to creating stories for myself where none exist, so this ballet might mean something completely different to you. Or maybe you'd simply enjoy the stellar performances PNB's dancers bring to the stage. This little gem of a ballet might be obscured by the pomp and scale of Kyle Davis’ opening work, or the tongue-in-cheek ridiculousness of Cacti (which I loved, for the record). But Silent Ghost is the dance I’m still pondering, a dance that left me wanting more.

Friday, November 2, 2018

RE:33/RE: Dance History

Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson, upside down in "The Uninvited," created 1994-96
photo @ Peter Mumford, courtesy Dayna Hanson

I’ve been watching Seattle artists for a long time. L.O.N.G., more than 30 years. Theater companies have come and gone (RIP Empty Space, Alice B., Group Theater etc). I’ve also seen the exponential growth of the city’s contemporary dance community.

Normally I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about past glories; so much is happening now, there isn’t really time to mourn what came before. But last month, the connection between our past and present, at least when it comes to dance, was illustrated beautifully, and thought-provokingly, by Dayna Hanson. If you don’t know Hanson’s work as a creator of live performance and film, you may know her as the co-founder of Base, a relatively new venue for experimental arts, located in the fabulous Equinox complex in Georgetown.
Dayna Hanson, left, with Gaelen Hanson, 33 Fainting Spells, in "The Uninvited"
photo @Peter Mumford, courtesy Dayna Hanson

More than 20 years ago, Hanson and fellow artist Gaelen Hanson (no relation) formed a dance/theater company called 33 Fainting Spells. At the time, Europe had its share of dance/theater artists; so did New York, but 33 Fainting Spells was the first of its kind here. The two women developed a distinctive movement vocabulary, and a distinctive look, complete with matching pairs of oxford shoes.

33 Fainting Spells eventually expanded to include Peggy Piacenza (also a Base co-founder); the group produced work until disbanding in 2006.

This year Dayna Hanson set about remounting 33 Fainting Spells’ body of work. Installment One looks back at the duo’s first piece, “The Uninvited.” As Hanson described it in a post-show conversation,this duet is the story of an unknown visitor whose appearance triggers a series of mysterious events. But that makes the piece sound very literal, and it’s not.
Dayna Hanson, front, with Gaelen Hanson in their piece "The Uninvited"
photo @ Peter Mumford, courtesy D. Hanson

The 2018 recreation picks up midway through the original, with Madison Haines and Julia Sloane reprising the roles Gaelen Hanson and Dayna Hanson created for themselves. These two young dancers were compelling in their own right; at the moment I have no photos of them.

When the audience enters the theater, Sloane is standing under a thin waterfall that drips from the ceiling. She collects the water in a glass, then carries it away, only to reappear with an empty container. She repeats the motions. Meanwhile, a stranger, Haines, comes in with a large bag, which she sets on the floor next to a chair. Repeatedly, she tries to attract Sloane’s attention, to no avail.

From this point forward, "The Uninvited" invites the audience into their mysterious world. They dance on a wooden table top, under a suspended chair, and across the floor. The work mesmerized me.

I couldn’t describe the entire piece to you, even if I remembered it from so long ago. What the recreation does so well is evoke the original: the lighting, the suspended, straight-backed chair, the wooden table. And those oxfords! The shoes are integral to the choreography. Sloane and Haines execute a sideways tap-shuffle: the dancers click their heels together, and that click propels their bodies sideways across the floor. Watching these young dancers transported me back in time, to when Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson were the heel-clickers.

The remounting of “The Uninvited,” or at least this portion of it, is the first in what could be a series that resurrects 33 Fainting Spells’ complete works. Or not. Either way, I was struck by the singular movement vocabulary, the vision, and the fact that the dance stood the test of time. It felt as fresh, or fresher, than a lot of what I see around town these days. 
Gaelen Hanson leads creative partner Dayna Hanson in 33 Fainting Spells' "The Uninvited"
photo @ Peter Mumford, courtesy D. Hanson

I’ve been thinking about "The Uninvited" since I saw it; so thankful to have had a chance to witness the past-made-present. More than a stroll down memory lane, RE/33: 33 Fainting Spells Revisited Installment One gave me the jolt I needed to consider the past, present and future of contemporary dance as one long, continuing strand, each bead beautiful on its own, but strung together forming a magnificent whole.