Sunday, September 29, 2019

Dancing, Writing, Writing About Dancing

Last night, I had the pleasure of witnessing Black Label Movement and Sod House Theater's Swede Hallow Ghost Sonata. It was a beautiful show, and it was also beautiful to not have to choose between spending a lovely fall evening outside or going to a performance, as it was site-specific and outdoors! I've never heard of Sod House Theater, but have signed up for their eNews and look forward to hearing more about their work.

Photo from

This show combined elements of performance so effortlessly - their crew included musicians, actors and dancers, and it was often difficult to tell who you'd consider who, as they all moved, sang, spoke. Weaved together particularly effortlessly were the actors and dancers, who completed nearly the same amounts and kinds of speaking and moving, all with relatively similar adeptness. That said, upon closer observation, I could indeed sense who the movers with more formal dance training were, and felt the two folks creating a verbal thread of sorts for us to follow had more formal acting training. None the less, I appreciated the ways they were all weaved together and allowed to use their strengths in subtle ways.

I also appreciated how 'transported back in time' I got to feel, thanks to several things including the 'tour guides' at the beginning asking the crowd to collectively close their eyes and sink back together. When our eyes fluttered open, like magic, their perch of a stone wall then contained the artists we'd be watching for the next hour or so! The costuming and feel of the music added to this feel of being transported back in time in real and satisfying way. All of this said, I also appreciated the self-awareness the show had of recognizing that imagination only goes so far sometimes, occasionally referencing contemporary society, including a reference about picking up a ringing cellphone (or something of that nature).

Similarly satisfying was the way in which both the performance and directing of the cast created both a contained world for them to relate to one another within that we got to witness, as well as clever moments of stepping outside that world and acknowledging that they were indeed being watched. Beyond acknowledgment, this was revealed in through direct quips to audience to warn them of coming physical shifts to keep them safe, as well as performers engaging small groups of audience, simultaneously, as they told their stories of their relationship/s to their own ethnic background/s.

The later was not only a satisfying way of 'breaking the fourth wall' (as if this wasn't already happening thanks to the performance being site-specific, station-based at times and held outdoors!), it was just plain artistically and humanistically satisfying. The show's cast was quite racially and presumably ethnically diverse, as were the populations of people who'd called the ground they performed upon home, whose imagined/ stories they were calling forth. Offering the performers a chance to share bits of their own ethnic backgrounds allowed them to connect to the material in a more personal way and to own it in their own right, and for the audience to ask themselves questions about their own relationships to their own ethnic background/s. As a fellow audience member I spoke with briefly after this section of the show mentioned, she "feels it brings us all closer together to know we are all, to a certain extent, trying to connect to our own backgrounds."

I enjoyed having to journey into the space under a bridge with the performers and the station-based section of the show in which it became a 'choose your own adventure' or sorts, in which it was up to you to select which happenings you visited (and in which order), where you stood and how long you stayed. Initially, it bothered me that I wasn't able to visit all the stations, but I came to appreciate this as symbolic of how you never get to hear everyone's stories, no matter how hard you try. I also appreciate that this show had several dates and was free, so one could come back if they wanted to "try and see it all" (though by it's nature, I'm sure the show is slightly different each night, so is that objective really possible?!).

I do feel that, while they were very entertaining, the humorousness of the 'guides' at the beginning ended up feeling a little out of place to me, given the ethereality of the rest of the show and the fact that they didn't come back at the end. That said, they were definitely useful to the device of having everyone close their eyes and open their imagination while the performers arranged themselves on the wall at the beginning.

I found the section in which the two lead actors narrated a dialogue about cooking as Mirabi Miller danced with her usual rapt, rawness particularly intriguing. Words like "to the bones" popped out as Mirabi pushed her own bones through sharp, extended and protruded movements. Other highlights for me included the performers moving through a unison sequence with lights in their palms as night was setting in, the full group movement sequences at the communal table and waltzing back through the tunnel, back into the present, guided by the singing a palm lights of the performers. I think perhaps we could have just walked back through like most other audience folks seemed to, but I couldn't help but grab dancer-friend Doug into a waltz for a bit :)

I'm sure I could have a whole lot more to say, but I'm still marinating on it all, and need to go grocery shopping! I'll finish by saying I'm so grateful this experience allowed me to learn more about a part of my own city I previously knew little to nothing about, how it engaged me in thinking about my own heritage and it's relationship to place/making and others, as well as its aesthetic beauty and the time it allowed me to spend outside. I'm so fortunate to live in a place so full of beautiful art and people!