by Winfield Maben for The Dance Journal
On Friday night Stone Depot, the artistic partnership between Ellie Goudie-Averill and Beau Hancock performed an evening of small dances at thefidget space. The night’s program consisted of two duets, a solo, and a trio performed by the pair as well as fellow dancers Pamela Vail, Charles Gowin, Mykel Marai Nairne, and Edward Rice. The works ranged in style and presentation including an emphasis on improvisation and spoken word as well as live music and a variety of different choreographic stylings.
The performance had begun even as the audience was filing into the space via a projected film of improvisations by Goudie-Averill and Hancock shown onstage. This was the beginning of The Blue Road a work in progress inspired by Blue Highways, a book by William Least Heat Moon. Shortly after the film’s conclusion the duet entered and began the improvisation anew, this time live. Where Least Heat Moon’s book is largely concerned with geographical navigation and travel, this work seems to take that idea inward. It explores what it means to navigate not only one’s own body but how to navigate oneself in relation to another. The dancers moved as a warped reflection of one another, not replicating each other exactly but instead providing echoes of the same movement. They seemed bound by an invisible force which pushed and pulled them against each other within a larger movement pattern which swirled around the stage, building upon cyclical motifs and escalations. This movement style was complemented by a hypnotic ambient score performed live by Julius Masri which further pulled the audience into the movement, inviting them along on the physical journey provided by the improvisation.
The second work in the program was titled In all its confining glory and was performed by Pamela Vail, a professor at Franklin and Marshall College and founding member of performance improvisation group The Architects. The work consisted of spoken word broken up by pieces of movement which were often intertwined with one another. Thematically it involved the confines of instruction as Vail would shout choreographic directions at herself in a manner that conveyed a slow building frustration in the search for perfection. This push and pull between performance and verbal instruction served to highlight the dichotomy present behind the scenes in so much of the performing arts we see on stage as the audience is usually completely ignorant to the frustration and confines of dancing another’s vision. However, despite the thematics, the work never lost its sense of play and levity which is so important when performing spoken word as it allows the audience to relate to the performer through shared moments of lightheartedness.
Following Vail’s solo was the evening’s only trio, Come over soon, people inspired by the poetry of Alice Notely. The running motif throughout the piece was the slow building of anticipation followed by a release which while not necessarily “explosive” felt impactful due to the manner in which that tension was built. At several points throughout the dancers would build themselves into poses before breaking off into more rapid movement as a contrast. This sense of payoff is what made a lot of the work so engaging as each time a moment like this occurred the excitement for the inevitable burst to come was palpable. The moment to moment movement featured luscious and indulgent movement as well as some playful undertones. The sound score consisted of Pamela Vail reading aloud from Notely’s Margaret & Dusty which helped to ground the work within the thematics of its source material and gave the audience a point to latch onto in relation to the movement.
The final piece of the night was a duet performed by both Goudie-Averil and Vail entitled POWER OVER. As the name would imply, power was at the center of this work as the two performers slowly discovered their own sense of power and the baggage that comes along with that discovery. The movement was sharper and more focused than that in the previous works which served to establish the underlying power of the dancers early on. However, it’s through the brief moments of discovery throughout that this power seemed to amplify. The most notable thing about this work was the way in which it challenged how we perceive power; the ending, which consisted of the dancers being driven away from each other, served more as a cautionary exploration of power as a concept than a full endorsement of blind empowerment. It’s this nuanced perspective rather than the mere presence of power on stage which elevates this piece above any assumptions the audience may have had about it and gives it space to carry its message out.
Overall the concert was perfectly suited to the intimate but well-attended venue. The ability for Stone Depot to showcase such a range of talent and thematic depth is impressive and the audience seemed receptive to the myriad movement styles present on stage. Performances like these are a fundamental part of building more complex conversations around dance, choreography, and understanding the meaning behind movement. I was grateful to hear that the performers would be sticking around afterward to chat with the audience as it’s through these collaborative moments that art is elevated and evolved.
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