Choreographer Douglas Scott, artistic director of Full Radius Dance, compares himself to a quilter. He gathers ideas, movement, color, costumes, stories and patterns, then lays them out to see how they fit together.
In the past 23 years, Scott has sewn together two different movement patterns — the weighted gait and vertical range of pedestrian dancers with horizontal rolling, tilting and spinning of dancers in wheelchairs. His annual repertory concert, New/Favorites, was yet another example of his ability to transcend physical limitations, using his movement mixture to create a rich and thoughtful artistic vision.
Presented January 24 and 25 at 7 Stages Theatre, the performance offered new and old work by Scott, as well as a premiere by Lisa K. Lock, a fascinating performer and imaginative choreographer who is relatively new to Atlanta.
There was a sense of sacredness and of invention in Scott’s opening work, “Climb,” revised from its 2006 premiere. Scott reworked the final section as a trio for dancers Renee Beneteau, Laurel Lawson and Shawn Evangelista. Inspired by the idea of trinities in cultures around the world, this section featured some of Scott’s most beautiful imagery. Complex counterbalances led into group sculptural forms — in one, dancers arrived at different levels on and around Lawson’s wheelchair, offering a natural succession of curved arms in what seemed supplicating gestures. Both music and Lawson’s statuesque presence gave the work a placid and reverent feel.
As guest choreographer, Lock presented “Perpetual Motion,” inspired by the gliding motion of wheelchairs and by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely’s kinetic sculptures. Lock’s choreography complemented Scott’s style with deft wheelchair pirouettes, fleeting speed and surprisingly quick, rhythmic skitter steps. At its close, group weight-sharing configurations combined people and their mechanical wheelchairs in ongoing repetitive motion. This evoked images of Tinguely’s water sculptures, creating an intriguing and fantastical impression.
Scott’s “Gut Instinct” — with its high-fives, excessive literal gestures and perhaps comic references to Martha Graham — seemed to be trying too hard to be “accessible.” To use the term, “Pilobolus on wheels,” is meant in the best possible sense. Risk and invention were highlights, especially in spinning partnering and stacked group forms. Guest artist Teal Sherer’s soft radiance was a joy to watch; Beneteau and Lawson executed a fascinating series of somersaults, rotating person and chair over person several times in one continuous movement.
Scott is in good company among artists inspired by the subject of death. His 2010 bone-rattling “Walking on My Grave” explored the idea of a blurred line between realms of the living and the dead. Scott’s new work, “It Is Four Years Ago and It Is Yesterday,” looked at this phenomenon from a different angle: an individual, performed by Onur Topal-Sümer, who was caught in a traumatic memory of loss, haunted by an unseen presence. Though she remained in proximity to her family, she seemed caught in the rush of memory, and this kept her emotionally distant from the ensemble.
The compelling work was inspired by “I Thought My Father Was God and Other True Tales” from NPR’s National Story Project.
In an introductory talk, Scott said that, in many cultures, a moth represents departed spirits. His symbol was clear in the piece. Lock, with fascinating subtlety and nuance, manipulated a large paper moth that hung from a string attached to a stick. Like an otherworldly puppeteer, Locke moved slowly and weightlessly around the family’s changing groupings, causing the moth to hover and flutter.
There was a vagueness to the group; to sounds of howling and of the sea, their shifting configurations set a lonely tone. This heightened Topal-Sümer’s isolation. She struggled at first, with a heaviness that kept her bound to the floor, then gained her footing through grounded, rhythmic and syncopated movement.
Eventually Lock appeared from the side with a bunch of pink, long-stem roses, which she thrust, one at a time, into Topal-Sümer’s arms. The mourning figure carried them along a meandering path through the silver-and-grey-clad family. She lifted handfuls of petals above her head and let them fall across her face and to the floor, as if weeping.
As the moth hovered close, memory seemed to consume Topal-Sümer. A soft but penetrating rendition of the traditional “Appalachian Round” imbued final moments with stirring poignancy.
With New/Favorites, Scott has again transcended physical limitations to communicate a unique creative vision. What seems to be missing is a unified stage director’s vision. While complex and risky motions were flawlessly synchronized, dancers’ performance quality, or stage focus, varied from one individual to the next. But this is a small note in what was a sensitive, inventive and deeply thoughtful program, given by one of the Atlanta dance community’s most valuable assets.