Five years is too long between fainting spells.
Anyone who takes issue with that line probably wasn't in the audience for The Uninvited at the late, lamented Synergy Studio in the spring of 1997. If they had been, they'd know whereof I speak. That witty and haunting movement drama, about a guest who casts an ineffable spell on her host, was so singular a work -- suggesting how modern dance might look had Alfred Hitchcock and Buster Keaton been choreographers -- and Gaelen Hanson and Dayna Hanson, who danced enticingly not only with each other but with a table, a flickering light bulb, and water dripping from the ceiling, performed it with such "strict craftsmanship and transcendent joy," as then-Chronicle critic Adrienne Martini wrote in naming it one of the Top Ten theatrical events of that year, that we've been hungry to see this Seattle-based dance team, otherwise known as 33 Fainting Spells, ever since.
Well, Dance Umbrella Executive Director Phyllis Slattery, who brought Hanson and Hanson here five years ago, has been hungry to see them again, too. "I've been desperately trying to get them back ever since they were here," she says, "but I could not find a space for them. It's all about space." With the loss of Synergy, DU's home space, securing venues for the touring acts that the umbrella presents has been a struggle. Slattery tried to book 33 Fainting Spells' 1998 production Maria the Storm Cloud but had to cancel the plan for just that reason. But she kept plugging away, and this year, Slattery was able to schedule a weekend at the Off Center during a time when the Hansons were available to tour, so after what feels like too long a wait, 33 Fainting Spells is back in Austin.
This time around, Hanson and Hanson (who are not related) bring with them a piece called Dirty Work and a third performer, Peggy Piacenza. Like The Uninvited, the new work incorporates inanimate objects -- a cot, card tables, an exercise bike, cans of Tab, plus some deliciously low-fi media equipment, like school-issue record players and used projection screens -- and features mystery and humor, but the piece comes from a different place. Dirty Work is a collage of jazz and pop music, excerpts from texts by Chekhov, John Osborn, and Tony Richardson delivered into handheld microphones, and what Rachel Kessler, critic for Seattle's The Stranger, calls "tiny, private rituals: putting on a new record, eating too many donuts, lip-synching to soft rock favorites, 'dancing' while seated." Amid this clutter, she says, the performers "grapple with the dirty beasts of age, regret, and the art of performance via the Hansons' twitchy, exuberant choreography."
Another of their hometown critics, Seattle Weekly's Sandra Kurtz, notes that "33 Fainting Spells' works often ask more questions than they answer or offer multiple interpretations to a deceptively simple premise, and Dirty Work is no exception. The goal doesn't seem to be to experience a kinesthetic rush or untangle a choreographic puzzle, but instead to find little truths in accumulated detail, to recognize how things can embody our experiences and trigger moments of understanding." Those moments are ours for the taking this weekend, and my, are they worth it.
Also ours for the taking is a two-part workshop that Hanson and Hanson will lead while they're here. Focusing on the relationship between movement and text in a post-modern context, it introduces concepts related to text and gesture that guide their work and provide them with the discovery of unexpected and compelling connections between speech and movement. Word and Gesture in Performance happens Saturday, August 3, 10am-noon, and Monday, August 5, 6-9pm, at Austin Musical Theatre Studio, 2011 E. Riverside. Cost is $25 for Dance Umbrella members, $30 for non-members.
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