What it is that you hold onto as you travel through life? Photos? Memories? Shoes? What moves you?
These are the questions explored in Moving Women’s latest offering titled The Trunk Show, now being performed at N.C. Stage as part of the Catalyst Series (where featured guest artists are invited to present new works in the intimate black-box theater). In an engrossing concert of modern dance, The Trunk Show explores the emotional power of memory, of keeping secrets, of friendship and love, as well as of the physical objects — old letters, a favorite dress or a bouquets of flowers — that kindle and ignite those feelings within us.
Choreographed and performed by Kathy Meyers, Erin Braasch, Katherine Dowdney and Jenni Cockrell — the four founding members of the company — the core strength of The Trunk Show results from the unique energy of each dancer and the quality in which they relate to each other on stage. If each dancer embodied an element, Meyers would be water, expressing strong and captivatingly fluid movement; Braasch would be earth, grounded and rooted in passionate, expressive movement; Dowdney would be air, ethereal and full of grace; and Cockrell would be fire, as her movement quality is extremely crisp and vivacious.
Though Meyers, Braasch, Dowdney and Cockrell contribute unique energies to the elegant-yet-sharp movement that characterizes the concert, they dance as if they are intuitively connected. Having worked together for more than three years, a dynamic chemistry is generated between. At times it feels as if one is watching sisters share stories of heartbreak, hope, inspiration and loss, communicating with each other and with the audience with enveloping, synchronized gestures. One senses the connectivity between them, and this keen level of awareness lends to the concert’s overall potency.
Since dance is very much a subjective art form, where individual interpretations range for each viewer, the feelings that the concert stirs will undoubtedly vary. Out of the 10 acts that make up the show, there were three scenes that particularly resonated with me. Here is a description of the pieces that especially moved me:
“Walking up the Left Wing,” the second act in the first half of the show, is an evocative and emotional piece. From a large black trunk placed at the bottom left corner of the stage, Meyers pulls out a long black dress and holds it to her body. Behind her, Dowdney pulls out a white dress and slips it over her head before moving towards Meyers to help zip up the black gown. Meyers returns to the trunk and begins to read silently from worn, handwritten letters. As she reads, Dowdney and Erik Moellering, a featured guest dancer in the show, seamlessly weaves spoken-word poetry with dance. As Meyers gently leafs through the letters, Dowdney and Meollering narrate a story of love, reading poetic stanzas aloud as they travel across the space. The audience soon realizes that the couple represents the voices of the man and woman who composed the letters.
“Walking up the Left Wing,” is about the way we revisit cherished memories. The beautiful integration between props — the long sleek fabric of a dress draped over a body (a gown created by local designer Brooke Priddy), a heavy trunk and a stack of worn letters — coupled with extremely sensitive movement and the beautiful harmonies of the Kronos Quartet and Peteris Vasks — establishes a atmosphere that permeated the space and left my checks streaked with tears. The program notes that the piece was inspired by love letters written between Neil and Dot Meyers, and by the war journal of Tech Sgt. Meyers.
“myself the prey…tigerlillies” is a striking solo performed by Cockrell, which was inspired by Butoh, a Japanese form of movement. Created with the help of Butoh enthusiast Julie Becton Gillum, the piece begins with Cockrell traveling slowly on a diagonal trajectory, moving from the right corner of the stage to the far left with only a beam of yellow light illuminating her body. As she journeys upstage, all the audience can see is the slow, sinuous ripple of muscle. Cockrell’s amazing control of her body, and the clarity of her carefully accentuated movement, is simply mesmerizing. Pausing at the far corner of the stage, mechanical, contracted gestures are woven into the piece, suggesting that Cockrell’s character is in a space of deep self-exploration. Traveling on the same diagonal line throughout, Cockrell faces the audience with confidence as she ends the piece— suggesting that she has made peace with herself in a new way — and exits on the same path from which she came.
Ending the first act is a hilarious duet performed by Meyers and Moellering titled “Honeymoon over?” The two dancers kick and push each other, embrace and kiss and roll on top of each other in a playful performance about newlyweds and love. Using simple yet impressive tricks, flips and an extremely funny on-stage costume change (where Meollering ends wearing Meyers’ long white dress and Meyers ends up in his button down shirt), the piece is playfully sexual and masterfully presented. Not only does the piece lift and lighten the mood, it demonstrated just how diverse the concert is on the whole, striving to explore all spectrums of human emotion.
Though, for me, the most memorable work is featured in the first half of the show, where each piece seems to build and connect with the next in a cohesive way, the second act is also extremely strong. The second portion of the show is made up of material that stands on its own without clearly referencing the work or mood that came before it. The four pieces of the second half explore themes ranging from the weight of our childhood memories to navigating roles and duties within family.
Costumes and lighting contribute to the ambiance of the concert. Lit with primary colors, red, yellow and blue light guides the scenes as they unfold, with each transition carefully moderated by lighting designer Brian Sneeden. Wearing red and purple gloves, flowing gowns, purple tank-tops and skirts, the simple yet corresponding outfits add to the shows continuity.
If you haven’t experienced the work produced by Moving Women, The Trunk Show is not to be missed. Conceptually dynamic and rich, the program demonstrates the ease in which the company moves from one concept to the next, setting to motion a compelling portrait of the human spirit while focusing on the objects and thoughts that give meaning to our lives.
The Trunk Show will be performed Thursday through Saturday until March 27, starting at 7:30 p.m. $15. Info: www.ncstage.org or 350-9090. More about Moving Women: www.movingwomen.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.