by Nicholas Gilewicz
Megan Mazarick missed the surprise Lucinda Childs performance at the last Susan Hess Modern Dance event in its old space this spring. She was cleaning up from her own dance.
“Ben [Asriel] and I did this piece in dirt. We got stuck in the stairwell, spitting dirt into a bucket of water.”
“It was such a big name at this small little event. It’s representative of how this [Susan Hess residency] touches all these different people. A lot of older artists had shown up to support Susan. What folks saw at Susan Hess is now a part of Neon Gothic.”
Megan showed a different excerpt earlier this year at the Live Arts Brewery Second Thursdays series, but she promises entirely new work for her showing at 8, which will eventually become a full-evening piece.
At the L.A.B. performance, Megan’s characters’ voices reminded me of the overly-close friends Walter and Perry from Home Movies. Megan says maybe a little of that is there, but she says the voices of a cartoon-within-an-online-cartoon inspired them.
“It also comes from this hilarious online cartoon called Teenage Girl Squad,” says Megan. “One of these characters has a whole cartoon. Teenage Girl Squad is a cartoon that this character draws, and all the voices are like that.”
Neon Gothic, as its name suggests, takes a dark turn. Megan is using and reinterpreting text from five Flannery O’Connor short stories: “The River,” “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead,” Everything that Rises Must Converge,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
“I’m taking the text and creating an abstract relationship between two characters,” Megan says. Three of these duets will be in the Live Arts showing, but the complete piece will feature more.
“Each duet is related to death and burials,” Megan says. “Not funerals, but being buried and actual dirt, the substance of dirt. The duet at Hess was very dark and haunting. The imagery was about burying the human body under soil. In others, it becomes more abstract.”
While the characters in each duest are the same, Megan says, the dancer-actors playing them will be swapped out without explanation. The cast for this excerpt of Neon Gothic includes Jumatatu Poe, Olvia Miles, Ben Asriel, John Peery, and Candace Thompson.
“The characters are a man and a woman,” says Megan, “involved in a romantic or love relationship. A husband and wife, a mother and son, a charged male-female bond. They’re going to have the same costumes on. By having the scenes fade into one another, all of a sudden, one person replaces another. I’m aiming for all the same characters.”
In her showing at 8, Megan says that she’ll offer two dance duets and one theatrical duet, the latter of which is likely to include spoken or read text, although she expresses some trepidation about the latter.
“I’m not always a big fan of having dancers talking on stage,” she says, “and I’m not the person to direct them. I’m not equipped to direct text for people who don’t have theater experience.”
“Normally, I’m making work that’s very specifically about a narrative or character. It’s hard to talk about this piece because I haven’t figured out yet what the narrative is. I might start with a funeral and figuring out now that this man is dead. But I’m being a little bit looser in case something else comes up.”
The burial theme came from bandying ideas about with another well-known festival artist.
“Geoff Sobelle asked me, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if you could bury somebody on stage?’ For Hess, I worked with dirt to see how the audience would react. We could let a lot of natural dance tendencies to be neutral, to play as neutral instead of playing some particular character.”
“The man and woman are covered in dirt, coughing up peat moss. When you add characterization it becomes over the top and cheesy. When you do something simple—dirt—it becomes loaded with meaning and imagery.”
In that performance at Hess, Megan used 70 pounds of peat moss.
“Part of the dance was bringing the tarp out and spreading peat moss,” Megan says. “It creates a really lovely cloud of dust and a beautiful smell. The temptation is to roll in dirt immediately, but then you shoot your image wad so fast. We were figuring out how to move when the cover is gradual. Because the dirt worked so well I decided to make it a thematic element.”
But the dirt, Megan says, gets in your mouth, your sinuses, your lungs. She’s not sure she wants to subject her dancers to the same.
“For Juma and Olivia’s duet,” Megan says, “I want them to dance in a dirt-like substance. I’m trying to figure out a substance that will float, that will be a representation of dirt. Dancing with the peat moss, we were really inhaling it. We used a neti pot right after.”
For the theatrical duet, Megan wants to take some text from the O’Connor stories and set it in a modern time frame.
“I’m trying to make the other pieces timeless,” Megan says, “but with the actors, I’m integrating more in today’s time. The relationship to dirt would fuel their scene. Dirt is falling out of their cell phones, in their sandwiches, falling out of their pockets.”
The intent is to unwind the narrative in a different way, Megan says.
“I’m hoping the actors’ scene will be lighter than the other duets. It won’t all be dark darkness.”
8: Megan Mazarick and Meg Foley will run September 7 and 8. Live Arts Studio, 919 North 5th Street, Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. 8:00 pm, $25.