EARTHLING DANCERS STAR IN SPACE 50

When the world feels chaotic, looking through a telescope has always provided a sense of comfort for Diana Cardiff. The veteran Seattle dance artist still treasures a decades-old photo of the moon that her dad took in their backyard. 

Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor, Diana Cardiff, Eric Pitsenbarger and Wade Madsen. Production photo by Kate Haley.

“When I look up to the sky, I feel a sense of wonder, fable, magic, curiosity, and hope,” Cardiff says. 

Those feelings from childhood are now propelling Cardiff’s latest project: Space 50. Co-produced by Cardiff and her 30-year collaborator Sara Jinks, this dreamy variety show draws from human curiosity about outer space, as represented in pop culture, mythology, science, and more. 

The production includes Robert Lawson singing Lost in The Stars, and several film and multimedia projects led by Cardiff and Jinks in collaboration with various artists. But dance is the connective tissue through this theatrical evening. Read on for a sneak peek of the dance pieces in the show, as told by the choreographers.  

Jenny Peterson with Kaitlin McCarthy and Annie McGhee.

Joyful destruction 

Set to Kate Bush’s song Hello Earth, Jenny May Peterson will wreak havoc on a prop cityscape, addressing the idea of Earth as “other.” Peterson’s collaborators include Julie Mack Boyce (scenic design), Kaitlin McCarthy (choreography), and Annie McGhee (fellow performer).  

“The last few years especially–I’ve been feeling–not super enthusiastic about Earthlings and their doings,” Peterson says. “I just think we could be doing a much better job. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is to be able to sit comfortably with disappointment. So in a way, this piece is my indulgent and hopefully a little bit funny way of destroying everything so we can start over. Bye-bye humans, now you are literally stardust?!” 

Tiny beams of light in the darkness 

Becca Blackwell is bringing her work as a stage manager and lighting designer into a new movement-based solo. The main source of lighting for Blackwell’s piece are her gloves, which contain small battery-operated lights.

“After not dancing throughout the pandemic, I am using this solo and the reentry back to performance as an opportunity to discover what my relationship with dance is now. I am very curious to see what the outcome will be. The song I am using starts out with saying, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space,’ which is what I’ve been doing since 2020: rolling with the punches and floating in space.” 

Truong Nguyen (as the Sun Goddess Amaterasu) and Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor (as Tsukuyomi, the moon god).

Traditional Japanese dance, mythology 

Rather than creating a mashup of classical Japanese and modern-dance, Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor’s duet with Truong Nguyen offers specific moments of both traditions. Created with guidance from Japanese dance artist Kazuko Yamazaki, Nomura Gainor reimagines the Shinto sun and moon deities, a married couple, through 1920s gangster (yakuza) culture.  

“This piece explores the duality of energies, including masculine and feminine or light and dark, that exist within us. Ultimately, in this story at least, the sun goddess comes out on top, and the moon god is pushed out of her orbit, forced to follow her across the sky. In the West, the feminine Asian body is seen as exotic—disposable even—existing for the pleasure and service of others. This piece is a dramatic, juicy drama that will hopefully be as fun to watch as it is to perform. But we, the two dancers you see onstage, are also speaking to people like us: Asian women, femmes, and queer folks. The title of the piece (in the beginning, woman was the sun) is also the title of a historic feminist text from Japan.” 

‘We’d like to make a contact with you’ 

Diana Cardiff will revamp her piece Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft that premiered at Ten Tiny Dances in 2015. In this humorous solo performed on a 4’ by 4’ platform, Cardiff dons a tinfoil helmet and brandishes a lightsaber 

Space 50 is a love letter dedicated to my dad, Ed Cardiff. It is through his eyes and mind that I developed  my appreciation for the beauty of science and the universe. Outer space is infinite and my wish is that this show touches on some aspect of outer space that resonates with each audience member.”

Diana Cardiff performs in Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft in Ten Tiny Dances, 2015. Kate Haley photo

Extraterrestrial duet 

In Space 50, Eric Pitsenbarger and Wade Madsen star in the film Two Little Men In a Flying Saucer. The married couple are also creating a duet to be performed live between Pitsenbarger and Hendri Walujo. 

“We are SO intrigued by the possibility of aliens. In preparation for this show, we’ve been watching all the ‘documentaries’ of sightings, autopsies, and more—reliving our own encounters (really!). We’ve been influenced by America’s 1950’s-style secrecy and government profiling, as well as the ‘sacred cows’ of modern dance. Hendri has been so game to join in and help raise the bar.” 

A slammin’ Carl Sagan tribute 

In Amy J Lambert’s ensemble piece, the choreographer honors a science icon using a treasured hip-hop song from 90s childhood. 

“Personified by seven different dancers in red turtlenecks, Carl Sagan takes an opportunity to jam out to one of his ‘favorite’ songs that didn’t make it on the ‘Golden Record.’ Since the first time I watched the movie Apollo 13, I’ve been a big fan of outer-space. Creating Carl “Space Jam” Sagan didn’t feel like a hard reach after years of admiration, and I’d like to think he’d be tickled by the over-the-top enthusiasm showcased in the dance.”

Carl “Space Jam” Sagan with Amy J Lambert’s cast. From left: Corbin Hall, Margaret Behm, Becca Blackwell, Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor, Rose Amlin KJ Dye. Front: Jenny May Peterson.

Cosmic dancers

Karen Garrett de Luna chose the song “Cosmic Dancer” by T-Rex for her duet with Alex Goldstein. A Buddhist, de Luna loves how the song alludes to the four sufferings (birth, old age, sickness, death) by remembering how long we’ve been dancing. The whimsical feeling connects different threads of birth, play, and death throughout.

“My reality is that at almost 50 years old, life isn’t what I imagined it would be in my 20s. I’m glad that there are parts of me that are softer and more compassionate. And there are parts of me that are still overcoming fears and learning new things. I still want the art I create to be good, relevant, insightful, beautiful and acknowledged. But more than that, I am happy that I continue to create things. It is a miracle that this culture, which doesn’t intrinsically value art, hasn’t killed my dreaming self.”

Space 50 plays April 28, 29, 30 & May 1 at The Erickson Theatre. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased on Stranger Tickets at https://bit.ly/3AzkRky. In the case that the general admission ticket fee is cost prohibitive, please contact the production team at buttcrackerseattle@gmail.com to explore volunteer opportunities and/or to receive a special discount code.