Fusionworks get down and dirty
by Johnette Rodriguez
In exploring the juncture at which the repeated movements
of ritual become the expressive forms of dance, choreographers and dancers Therese Freedman and Jim Coleman have worked
individually and collectively to create dances with great emotional impact.
They have choreographed a piece for Fusionworks's Spring Concert (March 27-29)
at Brown University's Ashamu Dance Theater, and they will also be performing
two of their own works.
They spoke about the pieces in a phone conversation last week from their home
in Amherst, Massachusetts, where they are raising two small children and
teaching dance at Mount Holyoke and for the Five College Dance Department. They
met in 1978 as members of the Bill Evans Dance Company and formed their own duo
company in 1980. After work in New Mexico and Seattle, they took a guest
residency at Mount Holyoke in 1983, which has turned into tenured teaching
positions -- hard to come by in these lean times for arts and educators.
One of the dances they will be performing at Brown, called Surfacing,
is from 1987 and uses music by Yas Kaz. It was choreographed by Therese
Freedman, who set herself the task of not moving very far from the spot where
the two dancers begin.
"It grew out of a lot of improvisation, as we explored permutations of floor
material," Freedman recalled. "It's an organic, partnered, interdependent duet,
performed very privately, never looking at the audience."
The opening image has two bodies so wrapped around each other that it's hard
to separate which limbs go to which dancer. As one dancer unfolds and begin to
rise from the cocoon, he or she is drawn back by the contact with the other
"Because we've moved together for so long, there's an intimate sense of timing
between us," Freedman noted. "And in the partnering, we have always shared
weight -- I lift him as much as he lifts me."
The new piece, Die Blatter Fallen, titled after a poem by Rainer Maria
Rilke ("The Falling Leaves"), has garnered comparisons with a Japanese Butoh
style of dancing in which the dancers are covered with white make-up and in
which the movements are very deliberate and very stylized. Freedman and Coleman
both say that the only similarity to their dance is in the slowness of their
movements and in covering their hands, feet, hair and faces with mud. Mud?
"Yes, it's a potter's clay," Freedman explained. "And when we honor it as a
prop, it slows us down. Our costumes are silk-like, pristine white shirts and
pants and as we move through the dance, we are marking each other's bodies with
the memory of where we have touched. By the end the tarp and the white fabric
are quite soiled -- it's like tracings of what happened in the dance."
"We wanted to look at issues of loss and decay and the mud on our bodies
seemed right for this," Coleman added. "As we perform, the clay dries and
begins to fall off, like the leaves in the poem and like the melancholy we are
dealing with in the movement as we keep each other from falling."
The dance was inspired by T'ai Chi and by movement "rituals" that Freedman and
Coleman performed on their own each day. With a piece of electronic music by
Elaine Radigue called "Kiema" providing a "sonic environment," the two partners
began to find ways of linking their own improvs into a unified dance.
"The mud really did inform us how to shape it," Freedman remembered. "We
didn't want it to look too 'dancey,' with two many turns or leaps.
"And since there are just the two of us, if we make a change, we can make it
on our own and then incorporate it," she reflected. "We try to create a world
you can view as the audience, though we never present it directly to you."
It's your chance to view that world this week at Ashamu.