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By Siobhan Burke
Big Dance Theater’s latest creation arrives at the Walker and BAM.
Is “maxi-minimalist” a word? If so, it might perfectly describe Big Dance Theater’s newest production, Supernatural Wife, which comes to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Nov. 17–19, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Nov. 29–Dec. 3. An exquisite reimagining of Euripides’ Alkestis, the work wrangles the heavy themes and shifting moods of the 2,500-year-old Greek play into the kind of seamless, cross-genre synthesis that this company is known for.
“On the one hand, I feel like the piece is very maximalist, because it just has everything in it—I mean, it’s got a Greek play in it,” says choreographer Annie-B Parson, who co-directs the Bessie award–winning group with her husband, Paul Lazar. By “everything,” she also means 1940s Hollywood film footage, rousing neo-folk dances, a capella chanting, a demi-god who plays the drums and drinks beer in front of the TV, and other seemingly disparate elements that coalesce in inexplicable harmony. “On the other,” she continues, “it’s very streamlined; I try to have as little excess as possible.”
When the superb performers aren’t reciting Anne Carson’s spare translation (or even when they are), they’re often dancing. During the U.S. premiere at Jacob’s Pillow in July, movement was as evocative as words in telling the story of King Admetos, who evades his own death by allowing his wife (Alkestis) to die in his place, only to be haunted by the repercussions of that choice.
“As a choreographer, I want, but rarely see, Greek chorus material dealt with from a dance perspective,” Parson says. (The company has also adapted Antigone and Orestes.) Among her movement sources: Pontian dance (a Greek folk form) and archival photographs of Baryshnikov with Carla Fracci.
The emotional weight of the story presented new hurdles for the company. “I’m not sure I’ve ever read a play that deals with grief as rigorously as Euripides has in this play,” Parson says. “Coming from, for want of a better word, a postmodern background, dealing with serious emotionality isn’t necessarily something we’ve done. It’s a huge challenge.” And one that the company is clearly up for.
Tymberly Canale. Photo by Mike Van Sleen, Courtesy BAM.