Not all who wander are lost, right? So the saying goes. Many who travel with no destination do it simply out of a brave desire to learn about themselves and stumble upon new scenes, new forms, new connections. The performance group Weerd Sisters seems to be on such a trip in Journey #8 – the very title implies one chapter in a seasoned collection – and modern dance is indeed a well of shimmering possibilities and untapped ideas.
It’s a bit surprising, then, to feel how muted is this sense of live discovery among the performers. After a broad variety of acts, Journey #8 evaporates from the room, leaving little behind for us to contemplate.
The group finds a nice rapport in “Traverse,” the opening piece. Birds chirp sweetly, and thick showers of rain splash in the speakers. Three dancers (Regina Blake, Marcia Freeman, and Margaret Riddle on Thursday) explore the space, each to her own tasks, moving with sober gravity. Arms twist and bend in the air, hands slicing and scooping slowly above our heads. At times they seem to have an elemental power – sculptors of rain – and in other fleeting, playful moments they evoke the whimsical life in a birdbath.
The second piece, “After Striking,” is a somewhat abrupt shift to spoken word performance: Lisa Buchsbaum reads an excerpt from a piece she wrote in 1982 about detainees in a secret American prison during Reagan’s presidency. To one side, Freeman tells the story in ASL. Buchsbaum has a warm voice but little stage presence. This is a hushed, intimate reading rather than a performance of text – no crime in itself, although by the next transition it’s become unclear what might connect these pieces to a common theme.
“Rewind” features sparse riffs from Tim Brown on saxophone, with Blake, Freeman, and Josephine Nicholson playing with group momentum: tugging, flowing, linking hands, sharing balance. Brown has nice moments of punctuation in his melodies, although these rhythmic rises and falls seem to slide past the collective inertia of the dancers. Despite this disconnect, some lovely silhouettes and moments of counterpoise hold our attention.
Buchsbaum returns with a stirring bit on the violin (“Wheels of Fortune”), as does Brown for a solo run on sax (Romberg’s “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise”). Both musicians have chops, but more and more we wonder why it is this set of performances, and not another, which comprises Journey #8. The Weerd Sisters ensemble shows little interest in threading the baubles together, and much momentum is lost as a result during some uncomfortably long, dark, silent transitions.
Ultimately Journey #8 falls into a no-man’s-land on the map of dance methodology. The performances feel stately and rehearsed, with seemingly little stock put into spontaneity or improvisation. At the same time, the evening lacks the disciplined synchronism that would signal a drive for unwavering perfection. The pieces float solemnly somewhere in-between, not quite rough fun and not quite polished showcase.
The group’s impulse to combine dance with clear accomplishments in writing and music is admirable. If only the show weren’t arranged like a talent show, pivoting self-consciously from body to book and back again. Those not directly involved in the moment’s proceedings disappear hastily backstage – a logical ritual, but one that forgoes the chance to show ensemble interest in each other’s myriad talents.
The resulting sequences drift apart like islands when they could be taking root in common ground, cut off from each other when they could be working to unearth some shared emotional truth. Journey #8 lets us wander through some interesting landscapes. But when given no path, it’s hard to not get lost.
Created, written, and performed by Regina Blake, Marcia Freeman, Harriet Campbell, Margaret Riddle, Lisa Buchsbaum, Tim Brown, Josephine Nicholson
Produced by Weerd Sisters
Reviewed by Hunter Styles