Preview: Ode to exhalation and a spark

Written by Kaitlin McCarthy
project29 in Ode to exhalation and a spark
Photo by 
Eratosthenes Fackanthall
This Thursday, May 3, 2012, The Fremont Abbey presents a one-night-only music and dance extravaganza. The night will feature the premier of the full-length version of the quintet Ode to exhalation and a spark by Victoria McConnell and Kenaniah Bystrom (collectively known as project29). An excerpt of Odewas shown at the second weekend of the BOOST dance festival in March, but Thursday’s premier will be accompanied live by local band, The Gundersen Family. The lineup also includes performances by musician Russell Fish of Ruby Parasols; two additional dance works, one by McConnell and Katy Hagelin, and another by Bystrom; and a dance-comedy improv by project29 and Erica French accompanied by Caleb Talbert of Cold Water Theater.
The collaborative magic began last October after a concert by local singer-song writers at St. Marks church. “This is where I met Noah Gundersen and heard him and his family sing for the first time, and it reminded me of growing up singing songs with my family,” says Bystrom. “At the end of the night we were just about done striking everything when Noah was playing the piano and Victoria and I started doing some improv in the middle of St. Marks, and then I thought, ‘Damn…this is special, we better do something.’” Thursday’s performance of Ode is the result of these collaborations. All but one of the songs in the work are Gundersen originals. The rawness of his lyrics resonate with the choreographers and are woven into the dance along with Bystrom’s original poetry.

project29 at BOOST dance festival 2012
Photo by Joseph Lambert
Aside from the music, Bystrom and McConnell’s religious upbringings are a source of inspiration for Ode. “I was raised in an evangelical church community,” says McConnell, “and as I’ve grown up, moved to different places, and been close with people with all kinds of different views of faith, I’ve been wrestling with my history, searching for spiritual truth and what it means to live authentically without being reactionary.” For McConnell, movement is a way to “process emotions and express intangibles.” Bystrom adds that the poetry used in the work is “based off the idea of prayer… I think that prayer is simply hoping to something much bigger than yourself, and whatever worldview you have…we all have hopes.”

Inspiration is not the only shared venture—the process has been a journey for both McConnell and Bystrom. “At first it was really hard for us, a lot of disagreements,” says Bystrom, “then we realized that in order for this to work we had to be extremely vulnerable, to the point of tears. It’s been extremely rewarding thus far.” McConnell seems to agree, stating, “[Ode]is definitely worth the challenge of shared creating and the vulnerability that goes along with that. Kenaniah and I naturally move in different ways, so, besides being articulate about our opinions or needs, we have learned to take each other’s movement ideas and try them on our own body.” McConnell adds, “as with most choreography, this piece is rather different now than when we started. I am as well… I hope that on some level, questions will be awakened, emotions called up, and thoughts quickened. There is a bitter tenderness to the piece that perhaps viewers will identify with; to see disillusionment, imperfection, and yet still find beauty.”

Ode to exhalation and a spark takes place May 3, 2012 at The Fremont Abbey Arts Center at 8:00 pm. Tickets are available through BrownPaperTickets. For more information you can visit the Facebook event page or check out the websites for Cold Water Theater, Ruby Parasols, and Katy Hagelin Dance Project. For a sneak peek, see the video of project29 in rehearsal with Noah Gundersen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjSva9Ym_4c&feature=youtu.be