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Illustration by Jessica Caisse.

little house dance Slows Down To Surprise

Brontez Purnell

For us, the devotees of dance theater, the magic remains new. I sometimes think the advent of modern dance (and its child “contemporary”) soothed that cave man part of our brains — where before the advent of language, gesture was equal to words (presumably, that is), also, there is something perhaps more poetic or dare I say, God-like, about speaking through actions rather than words.

little house dance of course presented “Hourwolf in the Cavern” on a fairly attended night, the San Francisco dance crowd still re-awaking our quarantined bodies to watch what the Portland, Maine based company had put together, and it was metered, but not stiff, well-placed, and ultimately, eloquent.

Heather Stewart & Riley Watts. Photo by Juliette Sutherland.

The piece started in accumulation of sorts. Two dancers, Heather Stewart and Riley Watts, on the ground, moving ever so slightly, to the point where if I had an untrained eye for movement, it would have read as stillness, it was an excellent display of control. Furthermore, there is something that creates a very taught tension in a piece, almost to the point of a kind of anxiety, watching two bodies take a full 15 minutes to go from flat on the floor to standing. The movement still focused on the line and shape of the dancers, and the use of a slow build is nothing new to dance theater, but it is of note, that it is always captivating to watch a classic convention done well, and the company members made good use of this form, moving into a series of contortions so precise it almost would have read as tableau, had it not been for the fact that they somehow managed to make use of the entire stage at what felt like a (captivating) glacial place.

Then it turned.

A large group of dancers (Isabel Ball, Nicole Bradbury, Alyx Henigman, Emily Hendrickson, Katie Lake, Tyeri Morrison) stormed the stage wearing all black and it was a shift. What was precious about the piece now seemed to be thrown off a cliff (I mean this as a compliment). The language turned, muscular, dark, vulgar even, though not confrontational.

The shift of the language was impressive, it seemed rooted in stark use of power squat and solar plexus, the relationship between the dancers seemed to become more urgent, and co-dependent, and all across the company impressive showed that they were in fact a group of individuals who collectively work hard with one another.

At one point one dancer stood middle stage while dancers flanked them in an 8 point star formation, while grabbing at the standing dancers legs all begin to circularly roll around them — it was simple but also one of the most compelling things I’ve seen on stage in a while.

The piece ended with what I thought was a bit of a cliff hanger. The sound scape by Marc Bartissol seemed comprised of all nature sounds when at the last two minutes of the piece it turned to Billie Holliday singing. I was stunned because it was the thing that in my head had finally rendered what I was watching as something human.

Brontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. He is the author of a graphic novel, a novella, a children’s book, the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down, and 100 Boyfriends, a collection of stories. Purnell is also the front man for the band The Younger Lovers, a cofounder of the experimental dance group the Brontez Purnell Dance Company.



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