Iron Daisies Verges on Catharsis

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Entropy’s Iron Daisies is a heavy show. It is beautifully heavy, sorrowfully heavy. Alicia and Daniel Mullikin, the choreographer-composer (and wife-husband) team who direct Entropy, have succeeded in something very difficult: they have translated the inevitable experience of grief and loss into movement and sound on stage, and they have done so without being trite or showy. The committed performances from all involved certainly helped keep alive a show so entrenched in loss, but it is also the artistic vision and composition of the Mullikins which made it possible to successfully sustain such theme for an evening-length work—their first. Iron Daisies opened at Velocity to a sold-out house on Friday, October 18, 2013, and it took both performers and audience through something verging on catharsis.

Iron Daisies
Entropy dancers in Iron Daisies
Photo by Joseph Lambert

The work began with all six performers on stage. D. Mullikin had his musical set-up in a downstage corner, three dancers sat close to him (A. Mullikin, Danica Bito, and Carla María Negrete Martínez), and two more (Maggie Hotchkiss and Alyza DelPan-Monley) slowly crawled toward each other. D. Mullikin started in with his cello and all the equipment which makes it possible for him to build the piece’s music using both live-recorded sound loops and his own live playing. In the first section, he paired scratchy and percussive sounds made by his stroking and flicking at the wood of his cello (fascinating to watch as well as hear), with sounds from the strings as well as dancers’ voices—snatches of Spanish text from Martinez and wordless cries, almost Björk-like from Bito. As all five dancers joined together, the piece’s gestures and motifs became clear, most significantly a silent scream which wracked through each dancer’s body each time she performed it. Unison choreography became a base to return to after solo and duet moments and series of lifts.

The choreography itself drew its spark from the different, sometimes conflicting feelings that are part of the experience of grief and loss. There was a repeated phrase built on sharp, aggressive intakes of breath. The dancers threw themselves mercilessly to the ground, and this sense of pent-up tension and violence punctuated moments of lethargy where they moved with effort and supported each other. Sometimes the dancers’ faces showed nothing so much as a dazed composure, their bodies’ movement for once quiet and calm. The unison choreography was especially effective when the group traveled as a whole. At one point, they all moved subtly forward on the floor, their faces hidden by the choreography’s changing facings which lent it an ominous feeling. At another, the group moved down the diagonal in a repeated backward-arcing spiral that melted to the floor—a movement suggestive of the tension and release that follows loss.

The whole first section felt long, and could easily have been shorter without damaging the impact of the piece and still preparing the audience for the emotional punches to come. The pattern of unison peppered with non-unison became a bit repetitive, as did the frequency of the silent screams. However, it is to the credit of the performers that this repetition did little to affect the evening for the worse; their utter commitment kept the work alive. The intensity of the dancing coupled with the mournful sounds of the cello’s low register was also potentially exhausting, though perhaps in keeping with the thematic material. There was a welcome break in visual intensity, though, as the dancers slowly walked toward their own shadows cast on the wall. The eye rested on this meditative image while D. Mullikin’s musical performance became the central focus.

As the dance and music intertwined more actively again, A. Mullikin and Bito undertook a duet of daring lifts and partnering. As it quieted and transitioned into a solo for Bito, the other dancers read names of lost loved ones—some submitted by the audience on an altar of sorts before the show. In keeping with the performance’s tone, the reading of names was not showy or melodramatic, but simple and respectful. It was an act of remembrance that made the night personal for the audience too, and another way of bringing them in to the performers’ onstage experience of grief. Afterward, the dancers dressed Bito in a long white gown as if preparing her for burial, and stood facing upstage with her as A. Mullikin began to sing.

Iron Daisies Danica Bito
Danica Bito performing in Iron Daisies
Photo by Joseph Lambert

Here the mood shifted away once and for all from relentless intensity. D. Mullikin traded cello and sound layers for a simple guitar, sweet and waltzing, which accompanied A. Mullikin’s sad song. It was like the calm acceptance that comes after a loss, still punctuated by bitterness, but more poignant than anguished. In a visual shock, Bito turned around to reveal long red strands coming out of her bodice and tethering her to the other dancers. Thus connected, she was not entirely in control of her dance, and as the music ended and the stage went black, she allowed herself to be pulled away, sad but ready to go.

Iron Daisies proved a transformational show. It is difficult to imagine anyone, either performer or audience, walking out the same way they walked in. So many artists strive to make work that is “real” and “human,” but the Mullikins have done it in a rare way that rings honest and true. They tap into the human experience and transform it into art with uncanny accuracy—and a constant reminder that emotion is a full-body-and-soul experience. With Entropy, they have assembled a group of artists who have the power to communicate not just emotions, but experiences. They dance from the inside-out, and this compels the audience into their world, so the audience, too, can experience for themselves. Entropy will be a group to watch closely in Seattle, and audiences should be eager to see how they next expand and share their vision.

Iron Daisies runs through Saturday night, October 19, at 8pm at Velocity. Tickets are available here or at the door. More information about Entropy is available on their Facebook page.