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By Gigi Berardi
Pat Graney Company
December 4–21, 2008
Seattle City Light Building, Seattle
Reviewed by Gigi Berardi
Photo by Tim Summers, courtesy
Pat Graney Company. Trinidad Martinez in Graney's
"sometimes charming, sometimes haunting" House of Mind.
In House of Mind, Pat Graney once again uses memory and consciousness as her muse. The piece is really two works of art: a multi-media installation that's a mind-boggling array of art, and a dance performance. Graney has transformed a converted 5,000-square-foot warehouse to great effect, using bleached white sand and alternating hot air blasts in a maze of sometimes charming, sometimes haunting rooms.
For part one of the event, the audience is invited to wander through walls of books and stacks of packing envelopes before viewing the actual installation. The effect is surreal, as if Graney conjured up the scene on the spot, inviting longtime collaborator Amy Denio to join her in producing a riveting soundtrack. Denio added her own intriguing compositions such as Celtic tunes and vocals and a guitar solo, plus theme music from old game shows and poignant interviews with Graney's mother (who has Alzheimer's disease), as well as interviews with Graney herself.
Installation and set designer David Traylor guided the effort, together with designers of every sort, like Nanette Acosta with Stella Rose St. Clair, who engineered six giant taffeta-textured dresses suspended from the ceiling. A wall of over 100,000 mother of pearl buttons has streams of water running over these traditional trading objects. Graney has added reams of her father's typed police reports from the 1950s and an array of gold-painted high-heeled shoes, arranged so that each shoe is visible. The most eerie display, however, is a solid gray room, which represents her father's study. Here the walls, rugs, books, and empty picture frames are all cast in the same emotionless gray.
Graney allows the audience to tour the installation for a half hour before the performance and view artifacts in the performance space itself. This includes a 20- by 12-foot wall of 3500 miniatures and almost as many tiny cubicles carved into it, along with bits and pieces from a 1950s home, including a bubble-filled bathtub featuring installation bather Kristina Dillard.
The gutsy and versatile ensemble includes standout Graney dancer Michelle de la Vega; newcomer Trinidad Martinez, who, together with de la Vega, carries much of the piece; Sara Jinks; and Jody Kuehner and Jenny Peterson. They sleep in kitchen drawers and even dance around the room with them, perform headstands on chairs or balance precariously on their rims. The chairs, in a sense, are the anchors of the piece, where a lot of Graney's motifs are performed. The dancers stretch, cringe, take regimented stances, and try to hold onto a routine, with lots of pacing in tight skirts and high heels—maybe it's a way of remembering. There is also an inconsolable sadness about the ensemble, a life interrupted by some tragedy. Clearly, memory loss is a terrible impoverishment.
At the end of the piece, all coalesce around the dining room, and then move on. One dancer goes to sleep on the dining room table, another curls up on the catwalk, another paces back and forth. Time disappears into sameness. How can we even know what we know––for the image becomes the memory—and which came first? This unforgettable piece, not surprisingly, had a long run of almost three weeks in Seattle, with a number of second and third shows added. Audiences can see this audacious piece in either Houston, playing now through February 7, or in New York City, presented by DTW on Governors Island in June.