As part of the In Residence program at Town Hall Seattle, scholar Steve Scher and choreographer Elana Jacobs presented a dual program on Monday, December 8, as part of their ongoing research on the notion of “home.” Scher and Jacobs offered an investigation of the human compulsion for safety, noting the power of interpersonal connectivity and atmospheric familiarity as a means to understanding the notion of home. Scher interviewed a number of community members as the bulk of his research, and he addressed the audience with a colorful speech outlining the various forms in which home can manifest itself. Jacobs, however, abstracted her interpretation of the same material and embodied the nostalgia and comfort of home in a way that words alone may not even be capable of fully expressing.
As the artistic director of the Seattle-based company, CabinFever, Jacobs’ work is entirely home-centric. Her work explores community and family in direct response to the stories, experiences, and architecture each project encounters. On their most recent “Salutations” tour, Jacobs and her artistic collaborators traveled from home to home, staying with families, immersing themselves in the personal histories of their hosts, and creating multimedia works in living rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms. They did so to forge relationships, but also to encourage community amidst the increasingly individualistic nature of contemporary America. Though Jacobs’ work is primarily shown in similar venues around Seattle, this summer’s recent tour took her all over the western states. Upon returning to the city, Jacobs spent the past several months in residence at Town Hall, attending events and connecting with the local community as a prelude to the culmination of her stay: a choreographic offering entitled be by me. Dancers Emily Craver, Emily Pacilio, and Sarah Lustbader performed to original music composed by Doug Barber, Evan Anderson, and Anna Goren, whose live performance was an intimate addition to the equally intimate movement.
Rather than working in traditional performance orientation with the performers on stage and the audience in seats below, Jacobs transposed the relationship. Her dancers performed in the pews of Town Hall’s Great Hall, illuminated by simple white lights fixed to adjacent seats, and audience members watched from the stage. While the space itself created a comfortable atmosphere unified by collective interest and close proximity of the performers to the observers, Jacobs’ movement was easeful in and of itself, with a childlike, playful, and often pedestrian aesthetic that expressed the relaxed pleasantries of those places most like home.
The dancers used unison, gestural phrases that appeared soft but shape-driven, as if to emphasize both the circularity and angularity of the surrounding architecture. Sequences in canon complemented the gestural sections and were often aesthetically reminiscent of Isadora Duncan in the Dionysiac frivolity of the dance’s expression. Meanwhile, repetition unified the movement: spoken word, head shaking motions, and relaxed seated poses that all reoccurred throughout the piece, and the combination of these elements was both visually pleasing and compositionally astute. Spatially, too, the work was expertly composed. Craver, Pacilio, and Lustbader moved laterally through the pews but managed to utilize the extent of their designated performance space by occasionally progressing towards the back of the hall and sometimes moving close to the audience. Their traveling layered the space with depth and volume. Use of the aisles also allowed for more freedom in movement and was a welcome change at various points throughout be by me.
Overall, Jacobs not only managed to convey a multitude of images related to different conceptions of home, but did so with a sort of humanity and humility unlikely to be forgotten. Though home, the artists noted, may the the tangible or the intangible, Jacobs work was tangible—an honest, physical embodiment of what it means to be home, even if home is in the body itself and nothing more.
For more information on CabinFever and Elana Jacobs’ Town Hall residency, see the CabinFever website here.