Sunday February 20, 2011 - Kokyat and I went out to Brooklyn where Shannon MacDowell, a young dancer we have met thru her work with Amy Marshall Dance Company and isadoraNow was rehearsing a duet by David Grenke, VESPERS, with her partner Brian Runstrom in preparation for the upcoming performances at the Cedar Lake theater by Dancers Responding to AIDS.
David Grenke, a former principal dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company, created VESPERS in 1992. Set to the Tom Waits song 'Tom Traubert's Blues', the duet portrays a man attempting to raise his beloved from the dead.
You can hear the music here; If you aren't familiar with the voice of Tom Waits - described by critic Daniel Durchholz as sounding "like it was soaked in a vat of bourbon, left hanging in the smokehouse for a few months, and then taken outside and run over with a car" - it might take some getting used to. In the context of David Grenke's dancework, the singing is strangely haunting.
As soon as Shannon and her partner Brian Runstrom began the rehearsal today I recalled seeing a film of this work up at the Pillow at the time Grenke was creating it. They were showing various dance clips on a screen in the Pillow's visitors center and I remember some women were watching it; one said: "This is so sexist, I hate it!" and another asked: "Why is he abusing this poor woman?" I said aloud, "She's dead. He's not abusing her, he's trying to wake her up!"
It was a powerful experience to re-encounter the duet today, danced to the raspy invocations of Waltzing Matilda. Shannon and Brian had been learning the duet from a filmed version and this was their first time actually being in the studio with David. The dancers have the basic moves and structure down, the choreographer was detailing their work and bringing it into focus.
The piece is intensely physical and full of body contact. "Don't let it get sexual!" David admonished: "That's not what it's about." Shannon and Brian responded keenly to all that David asked of them. Sometimes the choreographer would step in, taking the place of one of the dancers to show how he wanted something to be done. But he also let Shannon and Brian bring their own personalities into play.
Shannon MacDowell and choreographer David Grenke
Brian Runstrom, Shannon MacDowell
The light in the studio was quite evocative; Kokyat shot the duet in the available light and though we were there for less than an hour, the atmosphere of VESPERS radiated strongly as David and the dancers kept their focus on the process. Looking forward to seeing their finished work at the Cedar Lake performances.
All photos: Kokyat.