The luminous Lindsay Abromaitis-Smith is remounting a show that’s all about hair. My hair… your hair… the shared waves and tangles of our lives. Haven’t we seen this somewhere before?
Relax, kids. This isn’t your parents’ old-time American tribal love-rock musical. Nor is this Domestic Snakes the same piece that Abromaitis-Smith’s mother, Karin Abromaitis, premiered in 1988 under the same name. Given the magic powers of hair – we all have it, yet somehow it gives us each personality and makes us unique – it’s no surprise that a new performer would endow this inventive solo piece with her own twists and textures.
Abromaitis-Smith sits with her back to the audience in pre-show, humming and intoning scales of high, reverberating notes, pitching them softly into the colorful air. Around her hang thick ropes, each born at a central point in the ceiling. From the darkly etched tattoo on her back, two snakes grin at each other, as if sharing a secret. After a minute, Abromaitis-Smith comes out of this solemn meditation with a wink and a sly smile. By the time she steps up into the living sculpture of ropes – her feet lost, suspended – she has us charmed.
“My hair has never stayed in place. It has a mind of its own,” she muses. When she hangs upside down, the dangling ends of rope seem to extend from her scalp, electrified. Through frequent shifts between warm and cool light, she tells stories of hair, evoking the ghosts of Medusa, Rapunzel, and other ill-fated heroines with swelling ambitions and hair to excess. She passes time like a pendulum, swaying back and forth a few feet off the ground, the ropes hissing across the floor and thunking against the walls with dense, acoustic force.
Minor feats in engineering aside (she’s using a series of loops and stirrups to keep herself airborne) the success of Domestic Snakes lies in the simple but effective discussion of age and how we mature. Sections of hair in a long strand tell a personal history, like rings in a tree. “This is my hair aged 13 to 37” Abromaitis-Smith says, wrapping a length of rope around her body and checking off chapters in her timeline: dye jobs, trims, restylings, periods of growth and rebirth, periods of change and loss.
To call modern dance “dreamlike” is not always a compliment, but the tactile tug and pull of all that rope saves the show from simply floating away. Abromaitis-Smith understands that stepping up into the air demands an increase in balance, not a decrease, and she finds sensuality in this need to embrace an opposing force, to apply muscle to the tipping edges of equilibrium.
Domestic Snakes has its kinks. The quiet, flickering interiority of the performance means that sometimes the vocal energy doesn’t fully reach the back rows of audience. Words get snatched up in the ropes from time to time, and Abromaitis-Smith could stand to punctuate a few more key moments through solid eye contact with us. We lose the tail ends of stories sometimes too; intriguing characters such as a young girl on a cold college campus are swallowed up into by the next segment of choreography before we can get fully acquainted.
Regardless, the piece transcends convention. The very act of defying gravity – of being off the ground – is mesmerizing, and after several moments of our lithe hostess shifting weight and points of view, we lose visual track of how she’s staying up there in the first place.
Domestic Snakes asks, Are life’s tangles and snarls really so bad? Sure, knots are hard to get out, but there’s a security in knowing they remain long after they’re welcome. They remain benchmarks of who we are and what we’ve learned. And, in times of trouble, they’re the chunks of life we grasp onto to keep from slipping.