Plotting my trip to Seattle’s Sodo area, I was reminded that art’s real-world existence–its presence in galleries, theaters, halls, warehouses, parks–get us moving about outside our heads, as much as in them. After a downtown bus ride, I hopped a light rail train to the Stadium Station, then walked with a trickle of Mariners fans to Safeco. They took a left, I took a right, up First Avenue South to The Piranha Shop.
The performance there was called “An Inner Place That Has No Place,” created by choreographer Shannon Stewart in collaboration with filmmaker and NWFF fixture Adam Sekuler, and composer Jeff Huston. By chance, the last thing I read before the lights went down was this, from Judith Thurman’s profile of Alison Bechdel in The New Yorker:
“Well,” she said, “it coheres.”
The same cannot be said about “An Inner Place,” though this is a feature, not a bug, in a project that explores memory’s failures. The evening-length piece is too eclectically pieced-together (and hermetic) to send you out into the night raving about the experience as a whole, but it does, at times, let you in to its impenetrability, and it’s as if you see someone else’s memory in motion.
The work unfolds as a series of danced vignettes, with a sort of anti-soundtrack by Huston that relies on the fashionable use of clicks, feedback, static, tones, drones, hums, and scratches. Stills and video (both presumably from Sekuler, see sample video below) are projected across the back wall.
In one early segment, the dancers (Meredith Meiko Horiuchi, Mary Margaret Moore, Aaron Swartzman, Rosa Vissers, and David Wolbrecht) form different structures (a chin hooks onto a shoulder, an arm around a throat, a body leans like a sculpture, slowed by an outstretched arm). Stewart’s eye for grouped shapes is promising–they become multi-headed beings.
Later, you see flashbulb memories of drunken parties, as if lifted from someone’s Facebook wall–again, Stewart’s accuracy (the dancers, even frozen, have personality, and there’s a startling photographic fidelity to the tableaux, to eyes at half-mast and expressions caught in mid-flow) is striking.
But then Wolbrecht sits in a chair, back to the audience, with Meiko Horiuchi watching. He’s still, except for a tendency to slump to one side or another, as if passing-out drunk or paralyzed. Meiko Horiuchi, ever alert, guides him back upright again and again. Mostly, she catches him in time, but once he slumps to the floor. There is a inexpressible moment where she looks into a middle distance only she can see, and goes “away.”
Mary Margaret Moore has a minimalist solo that (to me) spoke of dementia, the growing inability to maintain intentional movement (What did I mean to do?) deepening to the loss of environmental awareness (Where am I?). This plays out over some minutes, giving you plenty of time to wonder what is or isn’t being suggested, though no more information is forthcoming.
Thankfully, Stewart saves her set piece for near the end–it begins with the troupe in unison, working out a step-ball change-step routine that becomes a dance workout. The choreography is fascinating in how apparently naturally random it is. The dancers pair or triple up in little workout conversations, grinning as they break it down, and then they begin sharing Q&As on memories, as if for fun. Gradually the tone darkens, and the group surrounds Wolbrecht, hectoring him with questions as he comes to confused stop and falls to the floor.
What all this might mean to you is highly variable, since the audience must supply a good deal of context and scenic ligatures. I have to think that it’s more likely people will like parts, rather than the whole, because it is so difficult to pull these disparate concerns together, even if you agree on what might be happening. Still, if you think of this as a workshop of sorts, a first chance to get an audience’s response, I think it’s likely to produce some interesting conversations.