There are experiences that are so difficult and so shocking that they make every other problem go pale, and yet almost everybody encounters them at some point, if not personally, through the experience of someone close to them. Dance can be especially effective in illuminating such experiences, experiences like suicide or cancer, because there is a balance of emotion and abstraction in the unspoken eloquence of movement that can very closely track the almost unvoiceable complexity of life’s most difficult traumas.
At the Dance Chicago Festival’s New Moves program Tuesday, choreographer Mary Tarpley and performers Katlyn Craig, Neile Martin, Taylor Stewart, Kaitlin Webster and Pavel Tabutov will present two works that do just that. “I Know Places” is a work for four women that Tarpley originally made for the suicide prevention and awareness organization YouSpoke.org, while “Quiet Hallway”, the duet performed performed by Tarpley and Tabutov, was created for a Dancers Against Cancer benefit. Both are strongly emotional and sharply designed to use movement, and a connection to the music, to visualize an experience that everyone goes through. For even though not everyone is the direct victim of such misfortunes, the most challenging tragedies can touch almost everyone who knows someone who who encounters them.
Tarpley is exceptionally careful with her design; both pieces are made of explicitly choreographed geometries where every movement is crafted to shed light on another. “I really like it when there’s a cool movement quality in a dance,” Tarpley says, “but I like it even more when you see different qualities of that movement juxtaposed next to each other to create a real architecture.” It’s especially important in the exploration of such interpersonal subjects, because so much of life’s most challenging experiences is the way that those experiences are shared by everyone involved. “I Know Places” is an intricate series of trios and solos; one dancer moves by herself, while the other three move together in a vivid representation of alienation and isolation. As Tarpley’s choreography develops, each of the dancers becomes the isolated soloist, just as the occasional experience of isolation seems to happen to everyone.
Tarpley’s concept of architecture in dance is a far-reaching one, it certainly includes her careful sense of dynamics and geometry, but it actually embraces her vision of the entire process. She describes her approach to choreography as an interweaving of three equally important goals, each of which inevitably enriches the other two. When Tarpley makes a dance, she makes it for an audience, with a constant surveillance of flow and through-line to be sure that the story or subject engage from start to finish. Yet at the same time, she creates for the performers, designing movement and interactions to be challenging, satisfying and enjoyable. She also makes dances to fulfill her own artistic ideal, to accomplish whatever story or mood she’s seeking to share and convey. “One of the greatest thing about Dance,” she explains, “is that it can be for the artist and for the audience.”
Both works will be part of the New Moves program presented at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago Tuesday, November 25. Tickets are available at the Athenaeum box office, and with the discount code “dcheartst” they’re nine dollars off.