by Natalie Gainer for The Dance Journal
The piercing glint of hot sunlight against metal train tracks, the delicate, heavy weight borne by a person in mourning, the tenderness that surrounds one’s memories of a loved one: these images and emotions were all carefully evoked in Leah Stein Dance Company’s Bellows Falls performance at the Iron Factory on June 19th. The piece featured dancers Leah Stein and Jungwoong Kim and violinist Diane Monroe as they explored the full extent of the space, light, and sounds of the venue, an old industrial building converted into a dance studio. As the performers weaved through the subtle crevices and sparse furnishings of the Iron Factory, they brought to life the memory of choreographer Leah Stein’s father, who, Stein explains in her program notes, was once captivated by his daughter’s descriptions of the venue.
The piece began even before the audience entered the Iron Factory. As we sat outside on the hot, cement stairs of the venue and waited for the ushers to grant us entry, dancer Jungwoong Kim stepped calmly and quietly outside. Carrying a metal bucket, he noiselessly walked to the corner of the block and disappeared around the corner. The audience was immediately captivated by this bold beginning to the performance; our attention was focused and our curiosity aroused as we were led into the Iron Factory before Kim even returned.
We entered into a hushed yet painstaking scene as Leah Stein lay on the floor with her torso covered in a pile of gravel. Perfectly encasing her body was a rectangle of natural lighting that poured from one of several windows surrounding the room. A silence fell over the audience as we observed Stein’s unmoving body with an almost funerary respect. Slowly, though, Stein began to remove the rubble from her chest with long, deep breaths, and soon she was moving freely between the sunlit rectangles that decorated the floor.
Thus began a beautiful tribute to Stein’s father. The piece did not seem to follow a single narrative line but rather weaved together small tidbits of stories and memories. The dancers explored together what Stein’s father loved: in Stein’s words, “gravel, trains, and industrial decay.” Stein and Kim employed heavy metal buckets and iron clasps in order to evoke these industrial objects. At times, their movements carried the same weight as these props, as they allowed the bucket and clasps to guide their movement through the space. With a gentle curiosity, they tested how the objects interacted with the lights and sounds of the Iron Factory. In one instance, Stein sat in a rectangular square of sunlight and ever-so-slightly swung the iron clasps back and forth on her fingers, showing how the objects glimmered, and then allowed their weight to carry her frenetically across the dance floor. In another instance, Kim showed how the metal bucket swooshed so effortlessly through the air on his arm yet made a terrible clang when dropped to the floor. With moments such as these, the dancers meandered through a portrait of a man who was enthralled by the unexpected beauty of industry and decay.
Stein’s choreography not only cleverly employed props but also daringly explored the nuances of the Iron Factory’s space. At one point, Kim lifted Stein into a wheel stationed on the ceiling. Stein lay cramped inside the wheel while Kim, in contrast, danced frantically and freely below her. In perhaps the most entrancing portion of the piece, Kim repeatedly walked backward with his torso risen on a concealed set of stars, creating the illusion that he was repeatedly floating up and then backwards. These moments of constriction, contrast, and repetition physicalized the emotional complexities of mourning a loved one.
In Bellows Falls, Leah Stein mourned her father through an exploration of the interests he left behind. Yet through her curious and evocative choreography, she also brought him back to life. As Stein, Kim, and Monroe moved through the Iron Factory, they pieced together a portrait of the heaviness of loss and the healing power of memory.
***photo provided by Leah Stein Dance Company