At first glance, ballet might not seem like the ideal vehicle for telling a story about homelessness. But Joe Landini, who is in his tenth year of curating the Summer Performance Festival (SPF), takes a famously hands-off approach when he offers dance-makers a platform. Taking advantage of this freedom, choreographer Marika Brussel has specifically situated her newest ballet in a homeless encampment.
Brussel's piece, titled From Shadows, was unveiled on June 7 at the Joe Goode Annex. It opened with family man Calvin Thomas swept into a waltz with his addiction -- a sleek, silvery figure danced by Sharon Kung. He abandons his wife and child. Years later, his grown-up daughter, danced by Nina Pearlman, searches for him on the streets, surrounded by a cohort of shadowy figures both human and inhuman. His wife, danced by the magnificent Alexandra FitzGibbon, returns briefly in an engrossing mirage.
Brussel, who had encountered homelessness in her own family when she was a child, avoided romanticizing the circumstances and mobilized ballet tropes in lush and unexpected ways. She succeeded where far-more-famous choreographers have failed in deploying the limited vocabulary and the hyper-refined aesthetic of ballet to tell a modern, authentic tale about a marginalized population. Earlier this season, choreographer Arthur Pita sent a gleaming stretch limo onstage at the War Memorial Opera House in service of a new ballet, but Brussel’s ingenuity with a trash-filled shopping cart packed an even bigger wallop.
Brussel's piece was just one of the first two programs of SPF 10, and if they’re a reliable gauge, the remaining SPF shows will be rousing affairs.
Another highlight of the first weekend of SPF 10 was Identity Theft by Linda Bouchard Multimedia Works. It’s a hallucinatory distillation of the real-life experiences of dancer-choreographer Aisan Hoss. Hoss can no longer return to her home in Iran, where she was born and raised, and where dance is outlawed. From the moment audiences walked into the theater, a climate of unease was created as each audience member was subjected to one-on-one interrogation by a cast member, in a seemingly capricious screening process redolent of encounters with immigration officials.