Sapience Dance Collective has been bringing authentic and community driven modern dance to the Seattle since 2009. “Sapience” means wisdom, and this is what Sapience Dance Collective endeavors to represent. The group attempts to bring together communities and tackle questions about life, delivering their interpretations through movement. Historically, Sapience’s works have often been collaborations with other artists, whether it be visual artists, costume designers, or the city itself in site-specific works. Most recently, choreographer and Sapience co-founder Sarah Seder has been working tirelessly with the University of Washington Chorale to create an epic collaboration for composer Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom. This latest collaboration has been a work in progress for many years and will be performed this Sunday, November 17, at Meany Hall at 2:00 PM, with sixty singers and seven dancers. The concert will also feature another collaboration between a modern dance group and a choir: choreographer Karin Stevens has created a dance for Benjamin Britten’s A Boy Was Born, sung by UW’s Chamber Singers.
Peaceable Kingdom, like many of Sapience’s works, is not merely a dance performance but a mixing of artists, communities, and ideas. Seder hopes this work will be accessible not just to dancers or singers, but also to a larger audience of people who are interested in the questions and philosophies the music brings forth. SeattleDances met with Seder to discuss Peaceable Kingdom and her upcoming performance.
Seder explained that she was inspired to choreograph a dance to this particular piece of music when she performed it with a choir in 2006. “I was just so moved by the range of emotions and the text. It is very graphic at times and also very beautiful. It inspired a lot of thinking about journey,” said Seder. She noted that for a richer understanding of the piece, an audience member might want to read the lyrics to “Peaceable Kingdom”, yet it is not necessary in enjoying and understanding the piece.
She further explained the context of the music. Composed by Randall Thompson, the music’s text is taken from Isaiah in the Bible. Thompson was inspired by a series of Puritan paintings that depicted the lion laying down with the lamb. Seder explained, “Many of the paintings have Quakers making peace treaties with the Native Americans in the backdrop so he was already making this connection between war and peace, mixed with the Isaiah text. It explores the idea that there should be a time when farming, productivity, and growth come out of war.”
This idea of peace emerging from destruction and war is beautifully idealistic, but at what point does this idea meet with reality? Seder points out that “lions don’t lay down with lambs, but still—that image. It is about that hope. There’s always hope. There might not feel like it but there’s always a second chance. It’s risky but you kind of have to jump in.” Both the musicality and the choreography mimic this concept of hope and fear. To move forward, you must take a chance, and that chance is often frightening.
Seder explained that rhythm was one of the aspects of the music she found most intriguing from a dancer’s perspective. The idea of change and hope coupled with fear and hesitance comes through in the music’s lyrics and rhythm. In turn, Seder draws her movement from this concept: “You know when you want to make a change in your life, but there’s the fear of stepping into the new place because maybe it’s not going to be the freedom that you are hoping for. In the piece there’s a lot of walking backwards and there’s a lot of walking into the unknown. What is the Peaceable Kingdom? Is it possible? There’s a hope but there’s the reality of the fear that goes along with it.” Likewise, the movement qualities Seder uses to communicate these juxtaposing ideas are “athletic and momentum-driven but also soft, tender, and simple.”
While both the music and the dance tell a story, the piece also focuses on the audience simply being “moved by movement and music.” But, Seder says, “there is also a story, and there are ways to dive deeper into that.”
Sapience Dance Collective and Karin Stevens Dance will perform with the University of Washington Chorale and The Chamber Singers at Meany Hall on Sunday, November 17, at 2:00 PM. Tickets for Peaceable Kingdom are available online at http://www.meany.org/tickets/. For more information about Sapience Dance Collective and their upcoming works visit their website: http://www.sapiencedance.org/.