Meg Foley Talks and Dances Grief in the Fringe

by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

Philadelphia dance artist Meg Foley has earned herself a well-deserved reputation for introspective work—both danced and spoken— that somehow transcends her own highly personal performance practice to draw audiences (and other dancers) in. This year, she’ll present The undergird (no, it’s not capitalized) in the FringeArts Festival, a moving elegy to grief that’s subtitled “a love letter to what we think we’ve lost.”

The work had its genesis in a previous 4-year project, Action is Primary, in which Foley danced (and often documented her creations) at 3:15pm every day. She took a few breaks throughout the 4-year project but did manage—and yes, I asked—to go an entire two-and-half years at her longest stretch. “It started in 2012, after working with Simon Dove,” she reflects. “I was feeling the desire to take performance outside of the studio and force encounters with everyday life or quote unquote ‘non-dance’ life. It revealed a lot around how I defined choreography, and challenged assumptions of what I could get away with in the studio but not out in the street.”

Foley also lost her father in 2010 and while The undergird is not a direct response to his death, the birth of her son Cadence (who has, quite possibly, the coolest dance-kid name ever) did get her wondering, “where I end, and where someone else begins.”

These ideas continued to marinate as she was in Toronto for a 5-day residency, still nursing her son but away for him for five days. “I have talked about the body not being fixed forever,” she explains, recalling previous talks and teaching gigs, “but now I’m living it. This organism—it’s just wild—it’s tied to Cadence’s very existence, so I was thinking about a marking of time, of him getting older, about how two bodies come together.”

Performances will take place from September 13-16 at the Icebox Project Space and feature a number of local artists, including Foley’s long time collaborator Annie Wilson. Performances on September 14 will also offer ASL interpretation provided by Hands Up Productions because—yes—there’s text, and a lot of it.

When Foley was working through various methods of documenting her daily dances over the years, she became “fascinated by the relationship between language and movement. I kept feeling how every [other] document would fail. Analog writing always felt the more reflective,” even opposed to film.

In The undergird, “Different performers perform different text tasks” Foley explains. These “text tasks” range from a “talking practice” in which dancers “say what we are doing in the present tense before we do it” but also include non-linear stories about grief and loss.

So what does all of this actually look like? (I always like to ask Fringe artists how they would describe their work to the uninitiated…) According to Foley, “the movement practices of The undergird […] are super physical. They range from small, focused architectural building or cumulative practices to things that are wild, stretched, moving from a place of undoing. It has a broad spectrum, which is matched by the emotionality of the piece. […] There’s a coming together and a dissolving.”

Although the work is deeply personal, Foley also notes is broad emotional appeal and hopes it will resonate with people who have “an acute relationship to loss and grief.” Audience participation plays a key role (but don’t worry: Foley assures theatergoers that they get to stay in their seats and won’t, at any point be told “Now we’re gonna do a Conga line.”) Instead, she hopes viewers will be empowered by the experience of closeness. “It’s bittersweet. We’re sharing something quite intense, and that’s a beautiful thing, but the reality is its stuff that can’t be undone.”

The undergird
Meg Foley
Icebox Project Space, 1400 N. American Street
September 13-16*
Tickets $15-$29 online at https://fringearts.com/event/the-undergird/

*ASL Interpretation provided September 14 at 6pm and 9pm

About Kat Richter

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and professor of both dance and cultural anthropology. She is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of The Lady Hoofers Tap Ensemble, Philadelphia's premiere all-female tap company. Her work has appeared in Glamour, Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher and The Journal of Research in Dance Education.

As a professional dancer, Richter began her apprenticeship with the New Jersey Tap Ensemble at the age of 9 and was promoted to Principal Dancer while still in high school. In 2005, she received a scholarship to Oxford University and returned to the UK in 2009. She holds a BA in Dance and History from Goucher College and an MA in Dance Anthropology from Roehampton University. A proud Philadelphia transplant, she blogs at www.fieldworkinstilettos.com

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