How Larry Arrington Integrated Astrology and Dance to Confront Cosmic Tumult

Chelsea Reichert, seen here rehearsing at ODC Theater, is a performer in Larry Arrington's 'No Quarter.' (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

One recent afternoon, dancer and choreographer Larry Arrington crawled beneath a green, furry sheet in San Francisco’s ODC Theater. It was a rehearsal for No Quarter, her latest work, and flower petals and a large garment covered the stage while a boombox played arrhythmic electronic music. Performers Chelsea Reichert and Jose Abad were already under the fabric, and Sherwood Chen would momentarily lay atop the mounds, intimating their arched bodies.

“I told them to get closer to each other,” said Arrington, clad in a dark tank top and shorts, during a break. “As a sort of joke, I call it a solo.” The theme of hybridity or blending runs throughout No Quarter in strikingly mirrored duets. "Sharing bodies," in Arrington's parlance, also references the alignment of Saturn and Pluto in what astrologers such as herself call a conjunction. “Really I’m an astrologer who uses dance in my astrological practice,” she said. “Dance is the mouth I use to chew things.”

No Quarter shows Arrington integrating her astrology with live performance more closely than ever. Her first piece created entirely in alignment with planetary cycles, Arrington started developing No Quarter in December 2017, when Saturn entered Capricorn. It runs Jan. 9–11, at ODC Theater in the Mission District, where she’s a resident artist, as Saturn begins to conjunct Pluto—a rare cosmic event that, Arrington and other astrologers believe, augurs global tumult.

“The Saturn-Pluto cycles are all about crises of power,” Arrington said, mentioning Richard Tarnas’ book Cosmos and Psyche, which charts the major historical events of modernity along with planetary cycles. “It’s very out there, very woo-woo,” she said. “I actually don’t talk a lot about this publicly. But the idea is I do art in alignment with these cycles, as petitions to them.”

Larry Arrington is a San Francisco dancer-choreographer and astrologer. 'No Quarter,' her latest work, runs January 9-11 at ODC Theater.
Larry Arrington is a San Francisco dancer-choreographer and astrologer. 'No Quarter,' her latest work, runs January 9-11 at ODC Theater. (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

No Quarter partly resembles a symposium. It begins with the performers still, surrounded by petals, while Arrington uses a chalkboard to digress, in a declarative-yet-elliptical style familiar from astrology, between ancient myth, modern geopolitics and the solar system. Attendees go on stage, intone phrases and learn to tell “daemon” from “demon.” Not that Arrington is too didactic: She stokes ambiguity and confusion, wondering what the planets portend for herself.

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“The last Saturn-Pluto conjunction was in 1982,” Arrington said. “And I was born in 1982.”

Arrington, 37, grew up in Louisiana and moved from New York to San Francisco more than a decade ago. At the time, she was leery of dancing professionally, but felt energized by the city’s climate of experimentation, drawing inspiration from collaborators Amara Tabor-Smith, Jesse Hewitt and Keith Hennessy. She landed residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts and CounterPULSE, and was invited to the closely-watched American Realness Festival in New York in 2012.

In the early 2010s, Arrington also created SQUART (Spontaneous Queer Art). For the performance series, often hosted at the Lab or SOMArts in San Francisco, with installments in Berlin and Portland, Oregon, artists convened in random groups to build performances around loose, winking prompts. “Celebrity judges” assessed the results, game show-style, in a satire of art-world workshops and competition that conveyed her misgivings about dance-as-vocation.

In 2015, her work pivoted towards its present forms and concerns. Rising cost-of-living had diminished her roster of collaborators; instead of large ensembles Arrington turned to duets and solos. Around the same time, a series of injuries left her temporarily unable to teach. “That made me panic,” she said. “All of the money I’d ever made was about being able to move.” So Arrington began charging money for the astrological insights she’d previously shared for free.

Jose Abad, seen here rehearsing at ODC Theater, is a performer in Larry Arrington's 'No Quarter.'
Jose Abad, seen here rehearsing at ODC Theater, is a performer in Larry Arrington's 'No Quarter.' (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

Arrington, who’s also a Rhythm & Motion dance teacher, offers group and individual astrology readings, plus regular horoscopes and related writings, and recently launched a Patreon. On Instagram, she posts video collages involving interpretive dance of planetary movements: Instead of the oracular neutrality of a written horoscope, Arrington’s head emerges from a fur blanket and spins like a top to represent a “trine” creating fertile conditions for personal growth.

A typical comment reads, “This is the perfect representation of my inner experience.”

Diversifying income sources lessens the pressures of wooing arts funders. “I was at this talk and someone said, ‘Be careful how you write your grant, you might start to believe yourself,’” she recalled, explaining how artists self-limit by tailoring narrow theses to funders instead of capturing what arises unbidden from the creative process. The distance from institutions also helps protect her work’s accessibility; admission to No Quarter, for instance, is sliding scale.

Arrington explores ideas in an open-ended way, carrying questions from one piece to the next as if each project is a swatch of the same borderless latticework. Quarter, a prelude to No Quarter, created as a part of Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project in 2016 (in response to Trisha Brown’s cube-based 1975 piece Locus), found Arrington critically examining how neatly delineated space—think maps, crosses—undergirds monotheism, patriarchy and colonialism.

Sherwood Chen is a performer in Larry Arrington's 'No Quarter.'
Sherwood Chen is a performer in Larry Arrington's 'No Quarter.' (Sam Lefebvre/KQED)

In a global resurgence of far-right nationalism, Arrington sees those forces of division intensifying, and the planetary conjunction at the core of No Quarter threatens to pronounce them further. She also believes it's a time of turning inward and facing shadows. “Buried things announce themselves, the past/dead speak,” reads her astrology workbook for 2020. “We are asked to take necessary and challenging looks at power, paternity, structure and the past.”

In No Quarter, Arrington takes her own advice. At a work-in-progress preview in August, Arrington recited Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “You, Darkness,” and performed a series of duets between stories drawn from her distant patrilineage and Greco-Roman mythology—like Saturn eating his children and castrating his father. On a chalkboard she drew a gun and a wagon wheel, “problematic inventions,” she said, that figured in the deaths of her great-grandfathers.

Arrington describes No Quarter as tracking the shift “from the many to the one” in the past 2,000 years or so. It is a vast subject, and she seems to savor the risk of an audience left unmoored. In one of two chalkboard columns, Arrington wrote “YIKES,” “DEAD” and “HISTORY,” and drew a circle around them before adding arrows pointing to other gnomic words. “Yes?” Arrington said, nodding wide-eyed at the crowd. She wrote “transcendence,” adding the letters from right to left, drew two clocks at the top (linear and circular time), and at the bottom scrawled “#1DAD.”

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“This make sense?” she said, prompting nervous laughter. Arrington entertained questions, and someone asked about two symbols that turned out to be glyphs for Saturn and Pluto. With enough mythological fluency, the chalkboard cohered. But Arrington also seemed content to let it sit like a poem, enigmatic to the point of provocation, and move along. “Should we keep dancing?” She continued, “Okay, I’m not going to give you a ton of context for this next one.”

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