Heartfelt Presence in Two Headed Calf

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Directed by dancer Calie Swedberg and musician Keith White, Two Headed Calf is a delightful interplay between dance, puppetry, and live music. Gracing Seattle with just two performances (February 18 and 25) in the tiny Pocket Theater, Two Headed Calf welcomed a full house on opening night this past Thursday. As the audience entered, reverberating electric guitar chords set a darkly meditative tone. The back of the stage featured a mesmerizing display: overlapping lace fabrics manipulated on an overhead projector hidden backstage. Eventually joining the lacy silhouettes were the shadows of two dancers, Swedberg and Chantael Duke, who were also responsible for the choreography. Their reaching and drifting human forms suddenly transformed the lace from abstract shapes into human-scaled layered environments that bent and blurred. Building music and flickering shadows created tension that was only released as the shadow dancers emerged on stage. Engaged together in a simple repetitive movement, their inward focus and soft precision felt almost like a meditative mantra.

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Two Headed Calf
Photo by Keith White

Gentle acoustic guitar and violin ushered in a mood shift as the dancers’ movement found a clean and efficient flow. A series of beautiful and charming projected cutouts illustrated a morning on the farm. One musician spoke just long enough to reveal that a two-headed calf was born during the night, and though it won’t live long, “a life so brief should not have to be without.” Recalling the movements of farm work, Swedberg and Duke’s abstractly gestural dance accompanied a shadow puppet woman who journeys to meet the anomalous calf.

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Dancers Calie Swedberg and Chantael Duke in Two Headed Calf
Photo by Andrew Van Kempen

Delicate and organic, the simple storytelling of Two Headed Calf engaged the imagination and the heart. The puppetry interplayed creatively with both the music and dance, continually reinventing itself with only a simple overhead projector. The talent of puppeteers Jessica Roxann Jones and Lauren Brazell shone through—quite literally—though the audience never saw them.  The music, performed by White, Alexis Modula, Loren Othon, and Andrew Van Kempen, held the space beautifully as well. The work’s pacing was especially notable: each element in Two Headed Calf  was given plenty of time to unfold and maturate.  The time lovingly granted to each simple idea lent more gravity to the idea of presence alluded to in the story of a short life.

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Two Headed Calf
Photo by Lauren Brazell

Two Headed Calf plays again this Thursday, February 25, at 7 PM at the Pocket Theater.