Upon entering the theater at Highways Performance Space for Peony Picnic, a serenity washes over you. Patterned pastel organza is strewn over the seats, dried flowers hang from the ceiling, and two beings flank the entrance — clad in bright morph suits and ski masks. They’re welcoming you in, preparing to become vulnerable; but their everyday armor is still on. A brief musical introduction and an offering of beautifully sculpted shapes ensues, and then the two reemerge from the curtain stripped (to their Calvins, of course).
These ethereal beings are Abriel Gardner (she/her) and Kearian Giertz (they/she), a powerful duo whose work rests on a clear foundation of love. For Peony Picnic, the pair have built a practice of forming a safe haven around themselves, or providing that haven for each other. This space — which it seems they carry with them elsewhere, but have chosen to let us in here, now.
In this oasis, they share dance, performance art, music; Gardner on bass accompanies Giertz’s astounding voice, through soft serenades with effortless range. They push each other back and forth, experiencing moments of isolation but returning to embrace. Their movement styles are individual, each very assured. Gardner moves with an understated quality, cultivated sophistication that comes naturally but gives off quiet power. Giertz is an undeniable performer, sure of their own talent and stunningly deliberate, declarative. In their contrast, they support each other.
Giertz’s notes drip with immense control and absolute beauty. She summons angels; then she and Gardner embody them. They hold each other many times, many ways — beyond the physical. In this sphere of respite, they are safe, sound, soft. They check in and look out. They ask for more. The movement is not a statement on its own but diffuses into the work to strengthen and direct their care. They listen closely to one another, communicating shapes and dynamics clearly.
The final serenade is Moon River, Giertz cooing over Gardner as she dives into a pile of plastic bags as though they are fall leaves. It’s a wildly compelling image, Gardner sliding and thrashing and reconciling to the iconic lullaby. And as they come together to take a bow, you begin to wonder how you can take a bit of Peony Picnic home with you.
For more information about Highways Performance Space, please visit their website.
Written by Celine Kiner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Peony Picnic by Abriel Gardner and Kearian Giertz – Photo by Felicia St. Cyr