Water drips from the ceiling as eerie piano music chimes, muffled as if coming from a distance. In a prim, short-sleeved dress, a dancer catches droplets in her cupped hands, then falls abruptly to the floor. Something is not right. Meanwhile, another dancer unpacks unrelated items from a leather satchel. She giggles at a rubber duck, blows her nose with a handkerchief, and crunches on candy buttons. Props suggest a living room—chairs, a table, a light bulb—but one chair is suspended in the air, a sharp square of light emanating from underneath in an unsettling reverse-shadow effect. This pre-show installation repeats several times, ominously setting the tone for the work to come.
In The Uninvited, viewers watch two dancers as if through the windows of their apartment. Incarnated by the strange behavior of commonplace objects, a thread of discordance runs through the piece. The dancers are pedestrians, situating the work squarely in the realm of Dance Theater, a form that utilizes theatrical elements such as narrative, characterization, sets, costumes, and lighting, yet treats motion as the primary mode of expression.
In a limited two-evening run, Dayna Hanson presents excerpts from the seminal 1996 work that launched 33 Fainting Spells, the company she co-founded with Gaelen Hanson. For the next decade, they created and toured crucial works that helped establish Seattle’s reputation as a groundbreaking dance hub rivaling New York for its avant garde aesthetic. In Re/33: Fainting Spells Revisited, Installment One, performed October 26-27 at Base, dancers Madison Haines and Julia Sloane perform the duet originated by Dayna and Gaelen as a faithfully rendered reconstruction, a re-examination without revision.
No discussion of Dayna Hanson’s work would be complete without considering the implications of shoes. We go through life wearing them, Hanson says. Functionally, the sturdy leather shoes contribute to the musical soundtrack, clattering dramatically when the dancers collapse and tapping wildly during passages of intricate footwork. The shoes enable Haines and Sloane to leap up onto a table, holding tightly with their gripping soles while they stomp and hover near the edge. They stick the landing as they hurl themselves off and sprint across the stage. The persistent tattoo of rain on the warehouse roof creates a wonderful counterpoint to the sounds of the dancers’ steps. Formalistically, their shoes contribute to the dancers’ identities as pedestrian human beings. The dancers in Hanson’s work are paradoxically superhuman, executing demonically complicated, Byzantine sections of petit allegro-like footwork, precarious headstands, and gymnastic forward rolls from an extreme wheelbarrow position. While aligning itself with the accessible postmodern ideal of Everywoman, Hanson’s work is nonetheless tricky, difficult to execute, and awe-inspiring, despite its prosaic facade.
The Univited features a compelling middle section in which Haines and Sloane drum their feet on the floor, kick their legs, and rotate like planks on their stomachs. Hanson uses an unpredictable structure in which each movement is deliberate, calculated not to merely to echo the music but instead punctuate the classical selection by Ravel. It is fascinating to imagine Dayna and Gaelen’s collaboration, twenty-two years ago, selecting each movement to satisfy the impulse: what does the canvas need? This masterful generation of unique, novel movements, tempered with repetition in a mathematical arrangement, challenges the audience in its complexity and rewards them with its emergent order.
When Sloane launches the hanging lightbulb in a pendulous arc, it flickers and slowly recedes into the rafters. The swaying beam illuminates Sloane, Haines and the space in turn. A dizzying effect. This striking portion leads to the work’s climax, as the strains of an angry cello accelerates the dancers’ increasing tempo. Lighting, originally designed by Christopher Fleming and adapted by Catriona Urquhart, dramatically snaps on and off. Tension and excitement increase. During minutes of death-defying footwork atop the table, one misplaced step threatens a fall. The dancers jump off the table in one final gasp. The lights cut to black just before they reach the earth.
In the talkback following, Hanson explains her interest in storytelling and characterization. She refers to the idea that all stories boil down to two archetypes: the hero’s quest or the introduction of a stranger. Hanson intended her original work to reflect the latter narrative. Hanson references Otherness, the movie E.T., and books of mystery and suspense. She strives to discard the “neutral dance mask” in order to “convey an inner experience.” The performative intentions of the dancers seem to mirror the original casting, in which Dayna refers to herself as dry, and Gaelen as evoking drama. In Re/33, Haines’s performance is emotive, nuanced, and ardent, while Sloane’s portrayal is stark, matter-of-fact, and deliberate. Two decades later, the interplay of these two characters feels fresh and relevant.
In addition to revisiting the features of The Uninvited, Hanson’s restoration does much to add to the reconstruction of Seattle’s rich dance history. 33 Fainting Spells was, from 1996-2006, intrinsic to creation of the Dance Theater movement in Seattle and elsewhere. The company’s work moves away from the rules of Modern dance by shearing away the conventions symbolic of emotion to strive toward its essential meaning. Hanson traces her influences back to the French choreographer Maguy Marin, whose Beckett-inspired work Hanson remembers seeing at On The Boards in the 1980s. Hanson encountered choreographers such as Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker while cutting clippings out of European magazines. She also nods to Seattle influencers Kris Wheeler and Pat Graney. In the nineties and early-aughts, Hanson recalls absorbing and articulating Seattle’s “nonconformist spirit.” Concurring with this sentiment, arts and culture reporter Marcie Sillman adds that Seattle has historically been a “pioneer town,” where people keep coming to reinvent themselves. Re/33 is a time-capsule into these consequential, limitless decades. This spirit of nonconformity carries on in Seattle, an ongoing legacy of Hanson’s influence.