into spring: PearsonWidrig DanceTheater.
in the Weather
Mae G. Banner
College Dance Theater, Feb. 25
Sound and silence have equal weight in Thaw, an hour-long
exploration of winter cracking into spring that was previewed
last Friday at the Skidmore College Dance Theater by PearsonWidrig
DanceTheater. A work in progress, the dance will have its
official premiere next week at New York City’s Duke Theater
on 42nd Street.
than a dance, Thaw is a journey to ice-bound places.
The five dancers merge their leaps and thudding falls with
archival film footage of Shackelton’s 1914 Antarctica expedition
and of the clunky ice-harvesting operation on a Maine pond,
circa 1940s. The sound of rushing water fills the space. Everything
is in black and white, cold light and long, horizontal shadows.
The first thing we see is a row of eight square metal pans
lined up on a length of black plastic set along the boundary
between the dancing ground and the audience. Each pan holds
a block of ice. I thought, “Well, we will see this ice melt,
drop by drop, through the course of this dance.”
Instead, Sarah Pearson, bundled up for winter and pulling
a small antique sled, stomps fiercely, but deliberately, through
the center of every other pan, smashing through the ice with
her mighty boot. Great chunks are up-ended, creating new angled
shapes to frame the dance.
Later, the other dancers will make short work of the ice in
the remaining pans, jumping barefoot and landing hard.
Pearson and Widrig are partial to site-specific dances and
to populist collaborations in small communities, such as their
recent work in Lewiston, Maine. That’s where they learned
of the ice- harvesting documentary film that Widrig edited
to alternate with Shackelton’s ice-cutting sailboat as the
backdrop for Thaw.
This company is nothing if not quirky. The dancers become
part of the harvest, leaping and scootching to get out of
the way of the circular blade, the loggers’-style sharp-toothed
saw, and the crude conveyer belt that lifts blocks of ice
onto the boat. All this to the dreamy reeds of Duke Ellington’s
“In a Sentimental Mood,” and the sloshing sounds of moving
The dancers, who’ve been working on Thaw during their
three-week residency at Skidmore and Emma Willard School in
Troy, treat this stage as a specific site. Their improv-based
movement relies on the theater’s back wall of painted white
cinder blocks that catch and hold the changes of light from
dead winter to the ferocious start of spring. The dancers,
especially tall, lean Matthew Rogers, do head-rolls and foot-rolls
against the wall. They walk tight along it as if magnetized,
or run hard and walk a few steps up it.
When they’re not up against the wall, the dancers, including
Widrig, Lindsay Gilmour, and Tzveta Kassabova, fall. Hard.
A lot. Though they also perform animal-like leaps and stretches,
skitter along on their butts, or turn and turn on one foot
like the white water eddying on film behind them, and though
they contrast freshets of manic movement with pools of stillness,
their dance is mostly about falling.
It’s also about change. Pearson, who grew up in Minnesota,
told the audience in a post-performance Q&A that she’s
always been fascinated with how the slow, under-the-surface
warming of winter suddenly smashes open into spring.
In their movement, the dancers are the ice and water. When
spring breaks through, in the form of a box of green grass
that Pearson carries on, their movements become more energetic,
bigger, with freer jumps.
grows on you. The dance—an ingenious meld of movies and movement,
motion and stillness, glassy white and tender green, silly
props and serious ideas—keeps opening up in your mind long
after the stage goes dark. Like spring.