Colorful rugs, couches, coffee tables, and personal items transformed a studio space into a bohemian living room. Audience members mingled and sipped drinks from the bar as the first performance began. The Pendleton House, a new artist collective comprised mostly of Cornish graduates, premiered A Beginning on Friday, August 30, 2013. The group transformed each studio space of Velocity Dance Center into a different room, and led the audience on a grand tour.
Beginning with a messy and sensual display, Alexandra Maricich’s Untitled was composed mostly of smearing honey on herself as she danced pressed up against the mirror. The audience was then led to the “bedroom,” a theater in the half-round, where Colleen McNeary presented Character Study #2—a slowly evolving performance of greater and greater discomfort. Small sounds became yells reminiscent of an impassioned argument, but the way McNeary frantically patted her mouth with her hand obscured her words. This particular choice lent a feeling of violence to the piece, and it allowed the audience to ride the wave of her emotion without getting caught up in the context. The piece continued its emotional decline as the artist sobbed on the floor, writhing in a way that walked the dangerous edge between sensuality and violent trauma. McNeary was convincing, but upon finishing she simply walked off stage, leaving the audience understandably nervous about applauding for such horrors.
Next, three nearly nude dancers entered with an intense animalistic quality for Mammal, by Mariah Martens. Moving sinuously from their spines with plentiful use of flapping bird arms, the dancers cocked their heads and stared aggressively at the audience. There was a lot of unison, if the term is used loosely—both timing and quality needed definition.
Another trio followed with PILGRIMAGE, choreographed by Matt Drews, who carried his two fellow dancers on stage in a nude piggy-back ride. Three musicians also performed in the space, and they played auxiliary roles in the dance by presenting the dancers with different objects: Dylan Ward got a bowl of ice cubes to chew up, spit out, and rub all over himself, and Drews and Ariana Bird got white lab coats that then circulated amongst the cast. The piece as a whole produced a solo frenzy of screaming and insanity. At times the movement was reserved and ritualistic, and at others completely unhinged. Some interesting imagery and skillful dancers made this piece palatable, but it seemed only to extend the rather single-note theme of intensity and raw emotionality.
The second half took the audience to a new room, “the bathroom,” which was a studio completely transformed with sheer curtains, white chairs suspended from the ceiling, and a claw-foot tub spilling over with plant life. Two women danced slowly in the corner of the side-lit space, and another languished in the tub, but the main act was a duet between two men who moved in unison as they spread dark paint across their chests. A video projection also portrayed dancers covered in black ink dancing in an outdoor location. The men reached outward, then contracted, tempted into moments of almost-intimacy, then jolting out of it.
The audience was then directed back to the “bedroom” where they were greeted by beautiful paper sculptures designed by Rosemary McGeady in collaboration with Chris Walsh. Made of intricately folded white paper, they glowed from beneath and expanded, oozed, and shivered as dancers moved underneath them. This was the beginning of Babette Pendleton McGeady’s piece, I’d Rather Explode into the Sun than Die Alone on the Moon, which completely stole the show. Dancers emerged from the sculptures and formed an ever-shifting mass moving in waves, dispersing and re-forming somewhere else with high-intensity West African-influenced movement. Drews and McGeady were swept up along the way and spat out face to face in the evening’s first moment of genuine connection. Their duet alternated between tender and abrasive in a sequence of original lifts, risky tumbles, and dives to precarious suspensions, all while playing with their proximity to the ever-moving chorus. McGeady’s thoughtful and creative choreography was only surpassed by her exquisite performance and resonant emotionality.
A Beginning was an extraordinary undertaking for this new group, who deserve praise for their ambition alone. The aesthetics of the production showed the artists’ complete thinking and made for a highly successful evening. Nevertheless, if the Pendleton House is truly to be stronger as a group, the choreography must reflect the same level of in-depth thought as the aesthetics. Some pieces need to develop nuance and conviction, while others seemed misplaced (McNeary’s would have read much better later in the program). Some of the performers lacked the emotional presence to pull off such demanding pieces, and overall the attempt at shock value grew wearisome by the end of the first half. It seems like the Pendleton House is aiming to be another Saint Genet. The rawness is there, but more depth, nuance, and connection are needed. Rome was not built in a day and neither are houses. Keep building.
More information about The Pendleton House can be found at their website.