Written by Victoria Jacobs
An Inner Place That Has No Place, which opened April 14, 2012 at The Piranha Shop, bounces off the inner walls of a failing memory, the dancers wrestling each other into calm and then flashing into snapshot tableaus before falling down an endless and quietly desperate tunnel of disconnected events. Shannon Stewart’s choreography is filled with brave, unusual contrasts, and it is by turns athletic, detail-oriented and tranquil; the shifting states are complemented by moody shafted lighting and understated video. Jeff Huston’s sound composition embraces the shifting moods with growling percussion, acoustic guitar, and samples from Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald. Tinkling music gives way to patchy static and the soundspace pumps up to a cheerful techno beat before falling into quiet spoken recordings.
After a considerable search for a vacant storefront to show Place, Shannon Stewart and Adam Sekuler found themselves installing their floating walls and video installation at The Piranha Shop, an intimate venue where the dancers greet the audience members on their arrival and are within arm’s length throughout the performance. The tucked away artist workspace, near the stadiums, is an adventure to find; the walls are painted concrete blocks, the pillars and floors are of rough wood. It is a real space, worn down by its own history; a human, lived-in, messy space, and that makes it the perfect container for Stewart and Sekuler’s quirky and tender creation. Place blends projected backgrounds and live film feeds with dance, notably in a mesmerizing trio for the women where a slightly delayed live feedback loops their images into infinity behind them on the wall.
The program notes call the piece a “memory (loss) bank” and the structure has the feeling of a box of unmarked home movies; it jumps or crawls through disparate episodes that are connected in personality but not in linear time. One extended chapter layers several elements: a man (David Wolbrecht) sits unsteadily in a chair downstage while a young woman (Meredith Horiuchi) patiently helps him, her face soft with concern. Aaron Swartzman and Mary Margaret Moore, upstage, shake themselves into a state while Rosa Vissers pulls faces and talks, muffled, through her hands. This goes on for some time; the audience is left to draw their own conclusions. Perhaps they are disconnected memories bouncing through his head, pulling him away from the woman who stands by him with the worry and stillness of a caretaker. The long play of time stretches the minutes and suspends the audience in a timeless state where nothing changes—and then suddenly everything transforms. It moves to a sweaty fever pitch at the end, with tennis-shoed dancers kicking and jumping and jazzily spinning and tapping rhythmically while shouting questions about what they remember; the inevitable collapse into darkness is hair-raising.
The five dancers in Placeperform with great specificity and personal resonance, and it’s hard not to feel connected to them when they are so close to the audience, but they also are honest and imaginative performers with the broad ranges necessary to the work. Stewart’s choreography pushes them to extremes of slowness, speed, balance, and specific gesture as well as humor and empathy, and they all perform with unique personality. Moore takes shapes with gorgeous awareness and clarity, Horiuchi’s specificity, speed, and tenderness are striking, and Swartzman’s personality and expansive movement fill the room.
Place is a rare and intimate experience, like prowling through a stranger’s attic and reading their jumbled love letters. To step into The Piranha Shop is to be wrapped inside someone else’s declining memory—confused, unstable, but always tender. Place can be seen again April 20–22. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Brown Paper Tickets, http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/237639.