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.

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