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.


About Gregory King

Gregory King received his MFA in Choreographic Practice and Theory from Southern Methodist University. In addition, he is certified in Elementary Labanotation. His dance training began in Washington DC at the Washington Ballet and later at American University. He went on to participate in the Horton Project in conjunction with the Library of Congress. His training continued at the prestigious institutions such as The Dance Theatre of Harlem and The Alvin Ailey School. Gregory has performed with The Washington Ballet, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, Erick Hawkins Dance Company, New York Theatre Ballet, Donald Byrd /The Group, The Metropolitan Opera Ballet, New York City Opera, and Disney’s The Lion King on Broadway.

His desire to integrate social activism into his choreography began with his graduate thesis, where he used the platform to push the conversation about homophobia and heterosexism. He is a lover of movement exploration and describes his aesthetic as a classical base with a theatrical flair.

He has taught at Boston Ballet, Boston Conservatory, Boston University, Bowdoin College, Dallas Black Dance Theatre and Texas Ballet Theatre. Additionally, he has served as a teaching artist in public schools in and around Dallas, as Resident Guest artist at Temple University and Assistant Professor of Dance at Dean College. Recently, Gregory received the Excellence in Teaching Award from the National Society of Leadership and Success. He is currently a Visiting Professor of Dance and Consortium on Faculty Diversity Fellow at Swarthmore College where he teaches Modern and continues to use his choreography as a means for social change.

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