Thick, steady, deliberate, impressionistic: Rosy Simas Danse’s ‘Weave’ at the Ordway Center for Performing Arts
Words by Alejandra Iannone | Images by Douglas Beasley
Rosy Simas Danse’s Weave began in the downstairs lobby of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts on Saturday, January 12, 2019. A growing crowd of audience members was gathered just outside the theater doors. Usually, these doors are wide open and staffed by ushers waiting to distribute programs and guide patrons to their seats as they arrive. On this night, the doors remained shut and ushers stood by.
Two performers appeared on the upper landing of the long, sweeping staircase that led to the lobby and theater entrances upstairs. They descended, sweeping, scooping, slithering, and sweeping through the crowd. Sometimes, onlookers parted in the middle to make a pathway for them. Other times, the performers tunneled through the crowd, creating a pathway on their own. This opening section appeared to be a structured improvisation, drawing from a movement vocabulary and a set of tasks the performers held in common. I was particularly interested in their gazes, which seemed to extend through the objects, persons, and structures surrounding them in the lobby. I got the feeling they were accessing a memory.
Eventually, the two performers reached the theater doors. The ushers opened them up, the performers entered the theater, and the audience followed them en masse.
Inside the theater, the show seemed to have already begun. A lone dancer was already downstage right. Her torso oscillated and undulated. Her gaze was soft and reminded me of the two performers I had just seen in the lobby. Gradually, other performers took the stage as well. They entered from behind the audience, moving along the theater aisles, up the staircases at the foot of the stage, and onto the stage itself.
I find it easiest to describe Weave in terms of overall movement quality: it was even, thick, steady, deliberate, impressionist. When I went home, I was very inspired to move myself. Much of the phrase work was a variation on ambulatory movement. I only saw two jumps and a few moments when dancers were crouched very low to the ground. Mostly, though, the dancers’ leg movements were some version of grounded walks and runs, lunging motions, stances with both knees bent, and one-legged balances in angular or off-kilter positions. The hands, arms, heads, and torsos seemed to describe space in their movements. The shifts in dynamic were slight and intermittent. When a shift did happen, it was often signaled by a lighting or sound cue. At various times throughout Weave, I wondered about the role of improvisation in the piece.
Entwined with the dance were a selection of thoughtfully considered and skillfully made technical elements. Françoise Richomme’s crisp, clear soundscape sound evoked a natural world that could be found outside the walls of the Ordway and beyond or, perhaps, before the paved streets of Saint Paul. Carolyn Wong’s lighting design gave the many and varied sections of impressionist movement some useful structure. And various high tech-scenic design elements added an engaging additional layer to the production. I was impressed by the digital images and videos of elements found in nature – like grasses and moving water – that were projected on scrims and about a dozen screened panels that rose as tall as the proscenium arch. Using digital projection to introduce natural imagery, and situating those images in an otherwise dramatically lit theatrical setting, established a thought-provoking juxtaposition between the idyllic and the dystopic.
Another large-scale scenic element of note was a large purple and white fabric draped on the shoulders of one dancer as she entered the stage – a beautiful and weighted image, of ambiguous meaning. Regardless, I imagine it was pretty wonderful for the dancer to walk cloaked that fabric; it looked so regal! When the cloaked dancer ascended onto the platform placed downstage left, wind from the two industrial fans began to blow, the fabric billowed behind her, and the image that came to my mind was of a soaring bird. I was reminded of Yvonne Rainer’s ‘Lamentation Variation’ and Trisha Brown’s ‘I’m going to toss my arms—if you catch them they’re yours.’ Afterward, the fabric was dropped to the floor and rather matter-of-factly secured to a fly bar by other members of the ensemble. It was raised, like a flag, to reveal horizontal stripes of deep purple and white. For something that seemed so deeply symbolic, the resolution seemed less-than-ceremonious. There, the fabric stayed as the dancers began to exit the stage as they had entered it; gradually descending two staircases into the aisles, moving toward and then out of the theater doors, leaving the audience and the memories of their performance behind.
Whether as patrons, dancers, choreographers, or citizens of Earth, we must educate ourselves, modify our practices, and shift our organizational cultures accordingly so that all artistic communities can thrive. With that in mind, there are some other things about this performance that I think are important to keep in mind:
This is the 2nd time in the last 4.5 years I have seen dance choreographed and performed by Native artists. Both of those times have been at the Ordway, both were a one night only performance that was associated with a robust series of educational programming, and both were somehow affiliated with Rosy Simas Danse. In Weave, Simas and her collaborators placed Native peoples, Native artists – herself included – at the forefront on a stage that is managed and funded by a foreign government – that of the United States – but rests on land on which the people of the Dakota and Ojibwe Nations originally lived and work.
I went into the experience with some knowledge about the relationships between: Native peoples and the Land; Native peoples (specifically, the Dakota and Ojibwe) and European peoples; and Native Nations (specifically, the Dakota and Ojibwe) and the United States government (specifically, Minnesota’s government). These latter two have a deeply troubling history that remains problematic. No matter, Weave had a powerful impact.