On Thursday, March 4, 2021 the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater (REDCAT) continued its virtual performance season showcasing the works of Los Angeles artists, with the new and intriguing performance art piece ˈkwirē/, choreographed by Jessica Emmanuel and performed inside a highly stylized set by Trulee Hall in collaboration with Emmanuel.

Words that best describe this work’s central theme are past, present, future and mother, sister, daughter. Another way to describe ˈkwirē/` would be the inescapable art of ancestral DNA spanning generations. Emmanuel manages to fuse together movement, music, video, projected text, spoken word, artwork, meditation, and mystery. At first, I was intrigued, then somewhat puzzled and finally Emmanuel wove her magic to enter my mind, calm it and allowed me to travel through time alongside her.

We first see only Emmanuel’s upper body, arms extended out and hands cupped to catch water that trickles down from above. As the camera pans out, it reveals an underground environment, perhaps post-apocalyptic or a refuse sought, whose walls are carved out of earth with precious gems, Opals, peeking out to occasionally reflect light. A single woven straw basket and a clay water jug sit along the back wall, and ghostly white tree roots eerily hover above as if reaching for this lone figure residing within their private realm.

Jessica Emmanuel in ˈkwirē/ at REDCAT - Screenshot by LADC

Jessica Emmanuel in ˈkwirē/ at REDCAT – Screenshot by LADC

Emmanuel’s movement is primarily minimal, but highly expressive. Throughout she is continuously in motion, resting only occasionally to listen to her instructions from an unseen being or to reflect, drink or prepare a meal for an expected guest. She crawls, walks, stands firmly on one leg as her arms and the other leg gesture, or reach out only to return to center before arriving at their destination. There are hints of a dancer’s passé or arabesque and only a few times does Emmanuel break her steady stream of movement with a sharp leg extension or abrupt turn.

ˈkwirē/ is constructed in sections that blend together slowly, moving from one room to another through an unseen portal. These sections have names like awakening, nourishment, listening, and activate. Emmanuel receives instructions or statements that read “Look who decided to join us”, “feed the roots” or “go all the way back”.  These all are telling the story of human, animal and plant life ancestral knowledge that lives within our DNA, ready to be accessed and utilized – past, present, future – mother, sister, daughter.

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Jessica Emmanuel in ˈkwirē/ at REDCAT - Screenshot by LADC

As I watched Emmanuel, trying to imagine how to describe her movement style, the teacher in me began to speak. She is a beautiful collection of moving angles. In this work, Emmanuel is not out to impress us with her dance training or technique, but to open our minds to what we have long forgotten, who we come from, who we are and where we could be headed. In her description of ˈkwirē/ Emmanuel writes  that it “considers a dystopian world where the majority of historical and ancestral information has been destroyed. The wealthy have left the planet and few humans survived.”  She, and Hall’s amazing set, takes us into that realm and provides us with the information to restore us back to health and one with Mother Earth. Emmanuel accomplishes this without anger, destruction, fear or violence. She soothes us, teaches us and heals us.

REDCAT is especially fortunate to have Lighting and Production Designer Matthew Johns, who brings to this and every production that he helps create, an extra level of professionalism and depth. In ˈkwirē/ , his lighting gives life to Emmanuel and Hall’s vision via the textures that he creates to heighten a sense of time travel and imagining a variety of realms.

ˈkwirē/ continues its run at REDCAT through Sunday, March 7, 2021.  For more information and tickets, click HERE.

To visit the REDCAT website, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Jessica Emmanuel in ˈkwirē/ at REDCAT – Screenshot by LADC