Wild Dancing West ended its 2008 festival at the VSA North Fourth Art Center this weekend with the local PutAttention Dance Collective’s “Affect,” and Deirdre Morris’s “Ashes: The Alchemy of Hope.” Both involved video elements that sometimes worked with the dance in “Affect,” but were more integrated in “Ashes.”
PutAttention’s four founding members, Kelly Ferguson, Allie Hankins, Lisa Nevada and Jessica Searer were joined by a “shadow cast” of four black-clad dancers; Erin Crawley-Woods, Libby Fatta, Marie Gorence and Margarita Ortega y Gomez. Both groups interacted as the video described daily scenes from awakening in the morning, to party scenes in a 1950s kitchen, to a trash site, and walking in the desert. Colored lines expanded across these scenes forming geometric designs. Unfortunately, dance movements seldom seemed related to the video scenes.
The movement, fast, complex and athletic, described couples involved in controlling postures, pulling each other’s attention away from others in the grouping, before dashing away in fast walks, runs, pinwheel turns and some interesting floor-bound work. The accompanying music was a collage of percussion-driven works by John Brollo, Kodo, Dosh, Michael Wall and others, which kept up the unremitting and frenetic pace of the movement. These were fine dancers a bit lost in collaborative choreography. The betrayed love of one character for another was clearly expressed, yet some other emotional relationships needed a clearer focus. The four central characters, in four pools of light, were both separated, joined in couple relationships, or rejecting one another. This all seemed unrelated to either the program notes or the video.
Morris’s “Ashes: The Alchemy of Hope,” was set as a dream-like environment recreating on film and set design both desert and mesa. The story is about Hope, a laundress whose world is a trap of poverty and desperation. Her washing and laundry become aspects of meditation, and water assumes ritual importance. A small pool of water appears at center stage, a large bucket for washing clothes at stage right, and a sloping mesa at left, all combine to form a moment and place for mystical revelation. The video, by Synchronicity Pictures, showed the washer woman working in the desert and other desert scenes at night.
An enormous totemic figure on stilts was danced by Kayo Muller. With vibrating antennae, or bristly tendons, the figure slowly began an eerie progression around the set, proclaiming visually that this was a ritual site. Composer and musical performer Jeremy Bleich, far downstage left, filled the sound environment with whispers, hisses, soft bells, and nature inspired sounds of the desert.
The shadow figure of Corinna MacNiece, as the laundress, emerged in the flesh from behind a curtain and staggered with quivering, spastic limbs toward her wash bucket. Twisting cloth and a violent shaking out of materials convulsed her whole body, a human totally in bondage to her environment. The tortuous angles of each gesture and the timeless quality of the action evoked modern Japanese Butoh movement, with its eviscerating images of suffering.
As the totem figure approached a skull-white mesa shape, it beckoned a goddess figure, danced with exquisite, sustained control by Rulan Tangen, who moved with liquid gestures, a lighter-than-air creature, toward the pool of water. This was a ritual that mined ancient and universal images of purification as Tangen washed, swirling the water in the air and over her body. Gradually Hope is drawn to the well of water by this supernatural figure, her movements becoming smoother, more controlled, and peaceful.
Tangen danced as a beautiful, almost angelic figure, her body gliding with its own space like someone released into the air and exploring its elements.
MacNiece gave a transforming performance with movement delicately designed to evoke a tortured character brought to peace.