Same Planet plumbs the depths of emotion to create two new works.
The dancers of Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre aren’t afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves. In works by Liz Burritt and Paige Cunningham premiering Thursday 19 at Links Hall, they perform movements based on some of the most intimate and powerful moments in their lives. “The dancers were willing to come into rehearsal and go to a deep place right away,” Burritt says.
Burritt and Cunningham were both approached to create dances for Same Planet by artistic director Joanna Rosenthal. All three women are colleagues at the Dance Center of Columbia College, where they teach contemporary dance classes. While Rosenthal has been a dynamic force in the local dance scene for close to a decade, Burritt and Cunningham arrived in Chicago within the last three years, after careers with major innovators Joe Goode (Burritt) and Merce Cunningham (Paige Cunningham, no relation).
The concept of Same Planet’s current concert is revealed in the title, “1 2 3 4 5.” The show consists of five works, starting with a solo and ending with a quintet. “[Rosenthal] said very specifically, ‘I want you to make a duet,’ ” Burritt says. To create Chasm, which mines the ever-rich territory of fraught relationships, Burritt sent dancers Rosenthal and Charlie Cutler a list of rather personal questions via e-mail, about conflicts and loves. “I didn’t know if they would go with that,” she says—but they did. “Charlie in particular sent me buckets of information.”
When she met them in rehearsal, Burritt asked Cutler and Rosenthal to create their own movement based on what they had written. “I wanted it to be personal to them,” she says. “I love watching [Rosenthal] dance—she’s such a fierce and facile mover—and I was excited to work with Charlie because he’s also an actor.”
Burritt danced with the San Francisco–based Joe Goode Performance Group for 21 years, and her own work reflects this style with sections of speech as well as dance. Although Cutler had his acting background to draw on, Rosenthal was less familiar with speaking onstage but was ripe for the challenge. “Joanna said, ‘I knew you’d make me talk or sing,’ ” Burritt recalls, laughing. Conflict and drama notwithstanding, Burritt describes Chasm as “simple, spare. Two dancers, two chairs.”
Cunningham contributes a trio to Same Planet’s five-part concert formula. Lionize was created for the company during a week’s worth of rehearsals in August. At the time, Cunningham says she was “in a place of personal loss,” after the deaths of her grandmother and former boss Merce Cunningham.
“Working the piece was my therapy session,” says Cunningham, who danced with Merce’s famed company from 1996 to 2004. As part of her healing process, Cunningham read up about bereavement and the seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance.
In the studio with dancers Adam Gauzza, Carrie Nicastro and Chris Tucker, Cunningham used the seven stages as guidelines to organize the choreography. She also asked the dancers to draw on their own memories of deaths and losses. “I really wanted their personal touches in the work,” she says.
Another technique she used to generate material was “body writing,” or writing in the air with parts of the body. Spelling out the names of loved ones with their limbs, the dancers join the ephemeral with the flesh in a kind of private code, legible perhaps only to the doer. “We bonded a lot during that week,” Cunningham says. “It was enjoyable and cathartic; we got to some of our issues.”
When something tremendous happens in our lives, we often say we feel moved. Burritt, Cunningham and the Same Planet company take this energy to the stage in full physical expression, leaving spectators to be moved as well, even as they sit in the audience.
Chasm and Lionize premiere during “1 2 3 4 5” at Links Hall, Thursday 19–Saturday 21.