In dance’s version of a fix-up, choreographer Sidra Bell introduced fellow New York dancemakers Anya Clarke and Mitsuko Verdery, of MICHIYAYA Dance, to Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, of Pittsburgh’s slowdanger. Artistically, she thought, they had a lot in common. She was right.
“We started talking about ideas and our work, and it felt organic and potent,” says Knight. “We thought we should make a quartet.”
Now after a seven-month, two-city multidisciplinary collaborative exchange and its New York world premiere earlier this month, said quartet, cleverly titled fôr, makes its Pittsburgh premiere Dec. 15 and 16 at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Alloy Studios.
Verdery, no stranger to Pittsburgh, earned a bachelor-of-fine-arts degree from Carnegie Mellon University. She writes via email that “[w]orking with Anna and Taylor has been very easy … we [she and Clarke] have never been in such an equal creative process.”
Verdery describes the hour-long abstract work as having “a lot of layered themes” including boundaries, identity, memory, distance and a collective experience.
“Being that we created a work while living in two separate cities, natural boundaries were set in place for us,” writes Clarke in the same email. “We used the idea of boundaries and individualism as a generalized feel for the work. Through these two ideas our own sub-stories are built within the movement [and] props, lighting and sound.”
The work is performed to a recorded original soundscape by Thompson and Knight, with live ambient vocalizations by the performers. Along with dancing, Clarke and Verdery use painter’s tape to create, live, a set design of mountains/cityscapes that will change throughout, suggesting shifting territories. At times, the performers will don canvas fencing masks as a metaphor for the boundaries we place on ourselves as individuals. In an interactive sequence, the dancers respond to audience suggestions; in another section, they use a 50-foot-long microphone cable as a bondage restraint. This is a dance work that seeks to be as visual as it is cerebral.
And when the dancing stops, fôr will continue. A post-performance panel discussion moderated by CMU’s Suzie Silver will feature Thompson, Knight and Pittsburgh choreographers Staycee Pearl and Maree ReMalia discussing the work and the processes surrounding multi-city artistic collaborations.