The American Dance Festival continues to highlight North Carolina connections in this 40th season in the state. On Friday and Saturday the 23rd and 24th, Natalie Marrone’s company The Dance Cure will open for Bill Young/Colleen Thomas & Co. in Reynolds Theater. Marrone’s work was shown in the combined ADF/NC Dance Festival program four years ago. Young was raised in Durham, but has always worked in New York: this is the company’s ADF debut. They will perform Young’s Interleaving, which cuts four earlier dances into thirds and recombines the sections so that there are four beginnings, four middles and four ends laminated into one arc. It’s an interesting way to mess with time perception, weighting the time-frame of the collected stories more heavily than the time flow-through of each story, and rather cinematic in concept. The piece is 30 years old, but the artistic penchant for taking things apart and putting them together differently never goes out of style.
Natalie Marrone and The Dance Cure won their stage time in an ADF competition for North Carolina choreographers earlier this year. They were chosen from 18 entrants from around the state who submitted video of works up to 15 minutes long. Marrone’s 10-minute duet Thresh will be danced by Rachael Mehaffey and Lucas Melfi, both of whom were seen recently in Renay Aumiller’s boneGlow.
Marrone lives in Chapel Hill and teaches part-time in the Duke Dance program. We spoke by phone earlier this week, when I asked her about the challenges of making and presenting contemporary dance in this area. “There are many opportunities to present a dance that has already been made,” she said dryly. “Funding sources are geared for production, not process.”
The process takes time, and time is expensive. The choreographer needs time to see and consider her ideas embodied by the dancers; she needs time to revise, edit, add–and she needs time to do that again and again. And, she says, “the dancers need time to work with the choreographer,” so that nuance and depth can develop as they come to know and trust each other. “I always want to go deep,” Marrone says. “Before I taught at Duke, it was very expensive to make a dance. And it was hard to find a dedicated space: we don’t need a space for two hours–we need it for six months!”
Marrone has worked on Thresh on and off since January, 2016, and in it she continues to combine her interests in vernacular dance styles and her own family history with a contemporary dance vocabulary. There’s a good descriptive piece about the dance by Susan Broili in the Herald-Sun.
Starting Saturday the 24th, Seattle artist Jody Kuehner, in her stage persona, Cherdonna Shinatra, will bring us some playful-serious West Coast attitude in her first ADF appearance. Actually, Kuehner has been to ADF before, when she danced in Mark Haim’s wonderful This Land is Your Land at the Nasher in 2013. But Cherdonna is about to burst upon us for the first time with Clock That Mug or Dusted.
We–Jody and I–spent an hour talking this morning, sitting outside Joe Van Gogh, where her silky short pink hair looked amazing against a backdrop of purple thistles in the sprawly little pollinator garden by the Broad Street curb. Kuehner identifies herself as queer, and in her performance persona she indulges in an extreme version of “hyper-femininity:” Cherdonna is an performance art drag queen. “‘Queer’ has become more of an expansive identifier,” she told me. “It’s associated with a value system of gender fluidity. It’s not about reproduction; its about partnership.”
We discussed the persistence of rigid gender expectations, and the current groundswell of bold gender fluidity, and how feminist art and action have and have not changed in the decades since the early female body artists made their radical messes, taking “the personal is political” to its artistic limit.
Like these earlier performance artists, Cherdonna’s on a mission. She wants us to free ourselves from inequalities of expectation, inequalities in what’s required and what’s allowed in expression of self. She wants equality all across the gender spectrum, equality under law and under social code. She’s the Notorious RBG* of performance art. But unlike RBG, who is cloaked but not masked and who must work for equality of the sexes in a clear framework, Cherdonna can do as she damn well pleases, no edges, no boundaries, and under her mask of make-up, she is pleased to communicate about the freedom of choice to live as you will.
Expect excess. Expect talking. Expect expressive movement, body slathering and what Kuehner calls “live painting” (the results of which will be collected and used in the next section of this ongoing performance work, one great, bright, brittle all togetherness) Expect intimacy. “I want people to be with,” Kuehner told me. “I like these intimate spaces.” In the flash of a smile, Cherdonna appeared. “Cherdonna’s philosophy is–we’re all in this together.”
The Living Arts Collective is very small. You probably want to have a ticket before going. If you can get there without a car to park, all the better for you.
*”At the core of Ruth Ginsburg’s lifelong project is the conviction that there should be no separate spheres for men and women in the eyes of the law, and that distinctions based on what “most” men or women do, on the choices that “most” of them make, is an obstacle to full legal equality.” Linda Greenhouse, writing in the New York Times 6/22/17.