Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre
|Pictured: Freya Jeffs in|
Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre's Lauda Adrianna
Photo: Sean Purser
Dance Mission Theater, San Francisco
March 25th, 2016
Upstage center, a large flower structure, resembling a stained-glass window, was suspended. Two columns framed it and two benches were placed on either side of the stage. Slowly, one by one, the dancers greeted the space with measured motions, like the start of a meditative daily practice.
So began Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre’s Lauda Adrianna, created and conceived by Stephen Pelton and set to Gavin Bryars’ brilliant envisioning of 14th century religious music. A number of years in the making, this gorgeous forty-five minute quintet was a work that evoked. In Lauda Adrianna, Pelton has crafted a breathtaking, powerful and moving piece of contemporary dance. By far one of the best works offered this season.
Lauda Adrianna felt prayerful. It felt spiritual. It felt like a sacred experience in a sacred place. And it was its attentive treatment of ‘the sacred’ that gripped the viewer from beginning to end. Lauda Adrianna not only opened and expanded the notion of ‘the sacred space’, but also celebrated the vastness of that concept. A sacred space can be a place for comfort; for introspection; for expressing emotion. A place to embrace and live in the uncertain - where there are questions but no definite answers, where mystery, hope and curiosity converge. It can simultaneously be a place for solitude and somewhere to be in community.
The two benches served as places of rest, repose and reflection, when the dancers were not occupying the middle stage space. In that center rectangle, varied moments of physical prayer and vulnerable contemplation unfurled. Some were shared by individuals, some in groups and near the end of the dance, a few brief (and exquisite) unison movement phrases were added to the mix. Spines contracted and torsos pleaded with heartache and frustration, pain and suffering. The solar plexus reached to the sky for guidance. Parallel and turned out extensions stretched away from the body communicating a soul torn in different directions. Rolling triplets and soothing rocks from one foot to the other spoke of calm and ease. And repetitive upper body curves, spirals in fourth position and outstretched arms brought a sense of peace and hope.
Pelton’s concept was communicated with stunning beauty by all five dancers in the company – Arletta Anderson, Chad Dawson, Freya Jeffs, Peiling Kao and Nol Simonse. Each cycled through the choreography with incredible malleability, almost making the movement liquid in nature. And yet, the intention and actualization of the vocabulary was precise, clear and exact. Achieving this combination in performance is rare and special.
Those two words definitely ran through the evening. They describe the choreography, the music, the design, the concept, the dancing. Everything about Stephen Pelton Dance Theatre’s Lauda Adrianna is rare and special.