A dancer raises her steepled hands to her ear as if listening to distant echoes within a seashell. In a slow-motion trance, another dancer reaches his fingers toward an audience member, meaningfully making contact with each digit. Meanwhile, the murmurs of whispers and deep breathing permeate the intimate space, hung with diaphanous white curtains that connote the dreaminess of a fanciful childhood bedroom.
In What is Home an Obscure Kingdom an Opera Buffa It’s Always You, Christin Call creates a multi-layered, interactive art exhibition that draws upon dance, theater, film, and visual art to immerse the audience in the central question—What is Home? Immediately upon entering Northwest Film Forum, viewers are confronted by numerous activities and installations to browse at their leisure, including an “invisible performance,” in which a dancer’s silhouette appears behind a screen; a coloring station; and a 15-minute prologue, in which two performers playing the role of Museum Docents lead groups of audience members to a small room for an “Object Tour.” Call utilizes the theater space in a non-traditional way, transforming NWFF into the Home is You Museum and inviting viewers to explore the multimedia installations, followed by a full-length dance performance in the main theater.
The opportunities for audience participation were numerous. During the “Object Tour” part of the prologue, we were asked to create a dome with our hands, undulate it like breathing lungs, and then whisper into our fingers the name of a visualized object from our childhood bedroom. When performances rely on audiences to perform specific actions, the work runs the risk of disintegrating if viewers choose not to participate, or to participate in unexpected ways. During my Object Tour, everyone brought their hands up to the correct, steepled position, but only about half of us were brave enough to make our hands breathe, and even fewer whispered any words. The close proximity of other audience members and the performers, the bright lighting, and the didactic instructions raised my inhibition-level and stole my focus from the winding, introspective duet happening only inches from my fingertips. On the Object Tour, were the objects the dancers, or were the objects the audience?
The prologue also included several dance films; I caught excerpts of Doing as Thingness, Parts 2 and 3. Featuring archetypal figures of the mother, daughter, and son, another ghostlike person looked on mournfully while her idyllic family played together. Perhaps these were the melancholy memories of a forgotten or disowned child, cast out when her black lipstick, edgy piercings, and dark clothing marked her as one who rejects her family’s conservative norms. The dance films juxtaposed Coriolis’s signature flawless, crystalline ballet technique with the abstract themes of miscommunication and loss, creating an interesting and compelling “postballet” composition.
If one can imagine a spectrum between abstraction and narrative dance, What Is Home consistently defied categorization on that continuum. In the mainstage performance, five dancers again utilized their beautiful balletic lines, rich with expansive arabesques and rotated legwork. They also broke into idiosyncratic or pedestrian upper-body motions, peppered with unexpected vocalized syllables that punctuated their movement phrases. Divided into three arcs, the dancers performed a non-linear narrative in which their five characters jostled for power and tried to forge connections. This story played out in a series of complex formations of solos with counterpoint, revolving duets, and infrequent unison phrase work. In between these arcs, the Museum Docent characters spoke again, but this time in a barely intelligible mélange of Shakespearean excerpts. At first I tried to make sense of the connection between the text and the dancers’ movements, but eventually I decided to view the piece as a pastiche and allow the waterfall of words to rush over me as I focused on the dancers’ captivating movement vocabulary and relationships. Sometimes helping each other in harmonious weight-sharing and at other times facing off in aggressive displays, the dancers performed their own journeys with the utmost commitment to their emotional states. Running the gamut from angry to proud to frigid, the dancers performed with conviction, but coupled with the confusing text, I found myself again distracted from the what by wondering about the why.
In the finale, mirrors on the stage turned to face the audience in a maneuver that presented an answer to the central question of What is Home?—It’s Always You. Briefly touching on the sociopolitical implications of living in a changing city in which many longtime residents now find themselves displaced and disenfranchised, this reckoning indicates that it is people, rather than any physical trapping or signal, who constitute home, belonging, and a feeling of community.
With so many elements and layers, Call’s thoughtful and innovative ideas combined to create a cerebral, imaginative piece. For me, however, beautiful dancing needs no obfuscation. The strongest parts of What Is Home were moments in which Call allowed her exquisite movement to speak for itself.
For more information about Christin Call and Coriolis Dance, please visit HERE.