Glimpsing the Interior of a Contemporary Fairy Tale in unbird unbeast

by Courtney Colón for the Dance Journal

Muted noises come from above-unseen footfalls shuffling across metal. Slowly, two figures enter my vision. Buried in layer upon layer of strips of fabric colored a violent red, they slink down a winding staircase, slightly obscured by a sheet of white-shimmered and flayed material that hangs between performers and the audience. At the bottom of the stairs, a sloughing off of the heavy red material; a shedding of the grotesque revealing two very human bodies. They separate, one staying behind as the other strays closer to the hanging veil of white, pushing some material aside at its center and quite literally parting the curtain between one world and the next.

Enter mover Katie Swords Thurman, emerging from the center of the whimsically constructed installation by Laura Frazure and out onto a stage of sorts- a small square of floor sculpted by a perimeter of seats where audience members sit, at once removed and intimately part of the action. Swords Thurman’s hair is down and wavy, hinting at a wildness that simmers within the piece. Her costume, designed by Andrew Smith, is a study in contrasting patterns, all geometric shapes, and floral motifs. She glides slow and sustained, smooth like melted butter across the floor. In contrast, Jesse Zaritt moves chaotically from his place behind the veil. Outfitted in a dark plum jumpsuit, Zaritt spins, and jerks. He exudes a gracefulness within the chaos, his limbs free yet controlled, his torso writhing.

unbird unbeast reads like a next-wave fairytale. Its framework is an interactive set complete with minimalist lighting design by Niall Jones that leaves room for the performers to shape their own movement. Both dancers play with lighting throughout the piece. At times they illuminate each other’s movements, at others, certain lights are moved or turned off. Every manipulation serves to frame the lens through which the audience watches. The soundscore, also by Jones, is equal parts of silence and a softened mood. Separately, both dancers eat up the stage. They move sinuously, circling, running, and turning deliriously yet fluid until with crisp suddenness, stillness and suspension appear before being swallowed again by the tides of constant motion. Yet it is together where the magic happens and the mythos of the piece is further constructed.

They come together in front of the curtain of white. A hand grabs an arm in silence and abruptly discordant piano keys begin to play, adding to the already dreamlike quality of the piece. There is a push and pull of resistance, both dancers counting on the other for support while tilting and leaning, staying in communication through both touch and their near-constant shared gaze. They meld together back to back, Zaritt crawling across the stage as Swords Thurman perches on top of him, a mythological beast traveling across space. At one point, Swords Thurman changes, donning a shroud made of downy feathers that detach and fall endlessly down as she spins and spins. Over and over, she grabs sections of hanging material, pulling it down on top of and around her, creating a gauzy nest. In the end, Zaritt and Swords Thurman meet, again and again, splitting and then rejoining in the same repeated pose, chins resting on each other’s shoulders. Finally, there is no added light, no sound or movement, only this: labored breathing as both performers lean on each other amid remnants of feathers strewn everywhere and shed costumes in heaps of red left behind.

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