The Big 5-OH – Celebrating OSU Dance

I am delighted to have been at OSU for the occasion of the department’s 50th birthday, and their Big 5-OH showing. Congratulations to whoever came up with that particular title, and the tagline: “…throwing our weight around for 50 years…”* I’ve always appreciated a really nuanced pun, and this big ten university dance department really does know how to throw it’s weight around, and how to stand up for itself, as the four dance pieces on tonight’s program demonstrate.** Continue reading →

The Linen Closet – And Other Collections

When I opened my program to write about Susan Petry’s new work: “The Linen Closet – and Other Collections” I found a perfectly preserved rose petal. Lush tactility, an evocative scent, and a little bit of magic… it was a perfect memento of the performance, which I urge you to go and see.

“The Linen Closet” explores fabric; it’s symbolic, cultural and historical warp and weft in the United States. It is a work of metamorphosis: a comforter becomes a play space, a lover, a child; the gestures of pattern cutting become a protest at the deep inequalities of children’s and women’s labour conditions. From the moment we walk into the theatre we are asked to immerse ourselves to the elbows in texture, pattern, repetition, detail, stacking and sorting, and the futility of attempting to categorise the riches draped before us. Petry transforms over the course of the performance to match her subject, flirting with kitsch and camp, simultaneously tongue in cheek and deeply sincere. For me the highlight was the vignette of a needle-eyed, voguing catwalk model, fierce and powerful, who exposes the urgency underpinning the soft surfaces of the work. History with a critical eye; domesticity with a bite; silk and chiffon as agents of change.

In “The Gift Project” Petry embodies the work and person of five different choreographers. As in “The Linen Closet” she makes light of the virtuosity required by her project, showing us the preparation and change from one body to another. The delight of seeing old friends in a new physicality, and five very different works approached with love and commitment is a breath of fresh air in an artistic and political climate where difference and diversion is often so divisive. The sole odd note of the evening occurs as Petry becomes a hip-hop performer for her final gifting: a good portion of the audience sniggers, breaking the generous suspension of disbelief that has been the tone of the work so far. Petry has to work hard to convince them that “no, really, I am genuinely embodying this presence.” She succeeds – totally and completely – but departs the state leaving me with questions in her wake.

The final work of the evening, “O Mortal” is breathtaking. A study in clarity and control, we see Petry as herself, finally, present and essential. Around her lies a ring of donated garments, and she moves through an introspective series of progressions to become the ever-flowing center of her own multiplicity. Together, the three works form a rich investigation into that which we put onto our skin and bodies: clothes, identities, and movement. We are asked to see and to witness, clearly and with love, who we are, and how we can choose to become.