On Saturday, February 20, 2021 the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre (NEDT) premiered the 3rd Annual Figures of Speech online, an event that was originally scheduled as a live performance in April of last year. The reason for the postponement, of course, was the Covid pandemic which abruptly ended all in-person performances. Always based in literature, this year’s Figures of Speech was a celebration of women writers in honor of the 1920 ratification of the nineteenth amendment which prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex. Shamefully, it was the first time in America’s history that women were finally allowed to vote.
Figures of Speech featured original works for film by NEDT members Ashleigh Doede, Noel Dilworth, Jen Hunter, Jenn Logan, and artistic director Nancy Evans Doede. The films will be available on-demand through Saturday, February 27th and on that day, a live Q&A will be held via Zoom at 4pm (PST).
A film by Ashleigh Doede and performed by Jenn Hunter, Just Step was inspired by the 2012 memoir by the American writer, author, and podcaster Cheryl Strayed titled “Wild”. Each film included a quote from an author and Strayed’s was “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed.”
Filmed outside in a park setting, Doede’s choreography reflected the author’s sense of apprehension, struggle and a woman’s journey into her personal unknown. A foot movement was isolated as if trying to move forward and that leg later cradled in the manner of a child being comforted. There was tension in the movement of a hand sliding through grass before Hunter stood to expand and open up her expressions of indecision. The fear, if not overcome, as at least faced and she moves forward one step at a time. The film’s music was by Moby.
Purpose was inspired by English writer Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel “Frankenstein” and the quote was “…nothing contributes so much to tranquilize the mind as a steady purpose.” The film was choreographed by Noel Dilworth and opens with three separate panels of performer Jenn Logan sitting on the same set of stairs but wearing three different types of clothing. The panels eventually blend together and then shift positions before the scene morphs into a triple exposure of Logan in her bedroom searching for a “purpose” or an inspiration to end a writer’s block.
The camera editing by Jenn Logan greatly aids this short film to evoke endless nights of pacing the floor, constant indecision and yes, the longing for a purpose in life. Shelley’s novel was, after all, about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made.
“The world was out there still, but I hadn’t looked at it in months. It was too much to consider it all, stretching out, a circular planet covered in creatures and things growing, all of it spinning slowly on an axis created by what – some freak accident? It seemed implausible.” The quote is from “My Fear Of Rest And Relaxation” by American author and novelist Ottessa Moshfegh and the name of the film by Jen Hunter is The feeling of a gentle breeze on your neck.
The film opens with dancer Ashleigh Doede standing in the middle of a city rooftop in what a dancer might call an open fifth position and on relieve. She is still for a while before moving closer to the edge of the building to survey the vista. Again, the movement emits a sense of angst, self-reflection, but for me there was more of an inner struggle with what is real and what is not. Doede returns to the edge again as if drawn to jump, but instead returns to her original position of wondering. The music was by New York-based artist Thea Mesirow.
In Clarion Call, we get to see the Artist Director of NEDT Nancy Evans Doede perform. Doede directed her own company 30 years ago, while also dancing with Nancy Hauser Dance Company in Minneapolis and, as she phrased it, NEDT became a re-awaking for her, leading her to form her current Pasadena based company in 2009. Doede is a gorgeous dancer and actress, and both qualities shine in this film.
Trina Paulus is the author of “Hope For The Flowers” and Doede chose to use the quote “How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.” Doede performs on the sundeck of her Pasadena home, at first using the outer wall for support. The movement is whimsical, optimistic, and playful before she ventures out onto the deck and her mode turns to hesitancy, resistance and even fear of rejection.
Doede wants to fly, but she is not certain that she can. Her movement expands, retreats, flows and becomes quiet. We are left not truly knowing if she has decided to leave the caterpillar behind in order to soar. The music for Clarion Call is by William Grueneberg.
Jenn Logan’s Crust evoked in me two sides of similar realities. When in color the world was upright and made sense, but it kept shifting to black and white with the world upside-down and occasionally in slow motion while moving in reverse. The quote comes from British writer Rose Macaulay, the author of “What Not: A Prophetic Comedy,” a feminist speculative fiction dystopian novel about social engineering – “And always there was that sense in the background of a possible great disaster, of dancing on the world’s thin crust that had broken once and let one through, and might break again. Its very thinness, its very fragility added a desperate gaiety to the dance.”
Dressed in a beautiful beige dress, Noel Dilworth is first seen walking over a crusted over area in an undisclosed area. I was left with the feeling of a pending disaster which was ever heightened by the Dilworth’s world losing color and flipping reminiscent of the “upside down” in the television show Stranger Things. One is left with the decision of what disaster lies ahead, as Dilworth returns to her original still position and showing little or no emotion. Wonderfully performed by Dilworth, this dance was not filled with gaiety. The movement, although often spacious and airborne, never gave on the sense of flight, but a pending and long expected tragedy. The music for Crust was by Moby.
Though short, the five dance films created by members of the Nancy Evans Dance Theatre are filled with meaning and symbolism. Never literal, the choreography pays homage to the voices of the authors.
To learn more about NEDT and Figures of Speech, click HERE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Jenn Logan in Purpose choreography by Noel Dilworth – Photo courtesy of NEDT.