At ODC, 'w o w m o m' Is a Multimedia Dance Ode to the Planets

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A woman with curly hair in a sparkly dress dances in blue light
Alexa Burrell in a film still from 'w o w m o m.' (Courtesy of the artist)

For many, astrology is part jest and part moral compass. It’s how people either understand (or diagnose) themselves and their loved ones, but it's also a belief framework for interpreting the past, present and an unknown future. And for Bay Area dancer Larry Arrington, astrology carries a serious ethos of artistic practice and research.

Humans have practiced astrology for centuries (long before Walter Mercado was immortalized as a queer icon), though the practice seems to be reaching an apex of popularity in mainstream culture. Astrology memes have proliferated on Instagram, and tarot card sales boomed in the pandemic. In 2021, a special tarot deck was even released to celebrate Bay Area queer and burlesque culture.

“To everything there is a season,” says Arrington.

Enter w o w m o m, Arrington’s latest work that continues her multidisciplinary exploration of astrological archetypes and planetary cycles. “Dance and performance—and now film—are the instruments I use to practice astrology.” In collaboration with mixed-media artist Alexa Burrell, the performance collages film with live dance, using Burrell’s sampling of sonic and video media. It premieres at ODC in San Francisco in two performances, on April 29 and 30.

A close up of an African-American man's face in purple light.
Brontez Purnell in a still from 'w o w m o m.' (Courtesy of Larry Arrington and Alexa Burrell)

w o w m o m, a portmanteau of two palindromes that also appears the same upside down, centers the concept of motherhood and reflection. Venus was the mother of Cupid (Eros), and her iconography is often reflected in water. Here, water symbolizes the reflection of faith and love back to oneself.

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Burrell’s mixed media accentuates Joel St. Julien’s film score and Clement Hill Goldberg’s stop-animation work for the centerpiece film. It’s all punctuated by live performances by Maurya Kerr, Brontez Purnell, Chelsea Reichert, Grisel Torres, Keith Hennessy, Gizeh Muniz-Vengel and Amy Wasielewski.

Combining a variety of art forms is exactly the point, explains Arrington: “Collaboration and hybridity are important for the astrological configuration we’re dancing under.”

The timing of the work’s development and its premiere also mirrors current astrological phenomena. Filming was done in the summer of 2021, so the artists could work with the first pass of Jupiter in Pisces, and the work will premiere next week when Venus is ruling the solar eclipse.

“It’s a wildly different configuration than the astrology we’ve been in for the last few years, that has amplified literal isolation and separation,” says Arrington. w o w m o m’s staged premiere will soon align with a “wet mutable blend of astrology,” adds the artist, where isolation is ending and community is being called back together in a post-COVID world.

Even if your knowledge of astrology is limited, don’t worry. Arrington asks audiences for an open mind following the planetary chaos provided by the past couple years: “Expectation is disappointment’s mother. Everyone is so exhausted. We’ve all been through so much. We’re trying to work with that in mind and in heart.”

'w o w m o m' premieres April 29 and 30 at ODC Theater in San Francisco at 7:30pm. Details here.