Talia Mason’s Onion Dances: Dancing Memories

Photo credit Irina Varina
photo credit Irina Varina

by Gregory King for The Dance Journal

The smell of onions dawdled in the air as I walked through the corridors of the Headlong Performance Institute . In the studio where “Onion Dances” would be performed, chairs lined the back wall while a portable tech station was set up in one corner of the ripe smelling room. It didn’t take long before the space boomed with bodies, as viewers entered to witness dancer / choreographer Talia Mason tell her stories by dancing her memories.

The lights dimmed and the loud thuds of onions were heard hitting the floor, as they were being tossed from the corner where the meek looking Mason chanted briefly before walking towards the onions loitering on the marley floor.

She stood… still.

An alum of Headlong Performance Institute, Mason used text and movement to explore the different effects of traumatic experiences. In addition to the tragic events like 9/11 and the assassination of John F. Kennedy, Mason told stories of her mom’s obsession with the Holocaust – stories of how that obsession may have been passed on to her. She also gave somber recollections of her candy-giving grandfather who suffered from pleasant dementia.

In dominating the stage, Mason lead with her stories and followed with her physicality; either moving with controlled abandon or with calm disposition, like when she created an “X” with her body by twisting her torso as she extended her arms to the sides walls of the room…. all in one breath.

After the recitation of one particular memory, Mason bit into a raw onion as if it were an apple. Holding what remained, she looked at it like it too was a memory or maybe what was left of a memory.

Before leaving the pungency she created from her bulbous prop, she carried a bench-like stool across the room, holding on to the teeth marked vegetable. Placing the stool on the floor, she sat with her back against the wall in a crossed-legged position.  Soon thereafter repeatedly pound her chest with her balled up fist.

Red chested from her self inflicted beating, Mason lowered herself towards the floor and I couldn’t help but wonder if her body had become metaphoric memory – as if pounding here chest was an attempt to beat her memories into nonexistence.

Hypnotic and bold, Mason’s vivid stories and gripping performance lingered, reminding me that even in an attempt to disregard some of life’s harsh offerings, memories can be gifts worth sharing.