Old love letters. Creased and tattered photos. Ticket stubs. A slip of paper, a flower petal, a pebble, a bottlecap. We all do it: gather the scraps of our lives that carry memory and tuck them away to fill our closets and drawers. We often can't justify keeping them, but it's so hard to throw them away.
Meanwhile, as we're tethered to the past, we also find ourselves captive to the minutiae of daily life and mental clutter: unanswered emails and phone calls, a kitchen that needs cleaning, bills that need paying, our own desires. The result is a life lived frenetically, fraught with doubt, angst, guilt, inattention and a nagging sense that if we don't figure out how to manage these memories and demands, they are sure to kill us eventually.
Bare Bait Dance's new show, How to Open a Cupboard, explores this balance of hoarding and purging, in both the tangible and psychological realms. Led by Bare Bait founder and artistic director Joy French, the eight-woman company spends just over an hour embodying those issues. French's signature choreographic style is clearly on display here: sweeping phrases punctuated by subtle gestures and fluid partnering. In keeping with Bare Bait performances of the past, this piece also makes effective use of dialogue, theatrical moments and a selection of props, including, not surprisingly, cupboards.
Five bright red cupboards built by Missoula artist Jack Metcalf occupy the stage at various points. Their physical reality serve as metaphors: a space within which to hide, a place to cloister away the past, a shield, a constraint, a support, a stage, a casket. Dancing with a literal cupboard is an awkward thing. The dancers meet the challenge, gracefully taking advantage of the constraint the cupboards provide. They dance inside the cupboard, and then translate that movement into the larger space of the stage. The choreography evokes the limits that pervade all of our lives.
Overall, the three-act, evening-length piece is strong: whimsical, intellectual, poignant and meticulous. As with Bare Bait's previous performances, the dancers have, it seems, tirelessly rehearsedthere never seems to be a misstep. During a few moments the pace lags, with ensemble sections lasting perhaps a bit longer than necessary, but these lulls also serve to highlight the sections of up-tempo activity and rapid-fire dialogue, giving the piece a nice ebb and flow.
One highlight is the recitation of "to do" lists –at the beginning of the piece and at the end. The lists are at once hilarious and uncannily perceptive ("Clean the kitchen to avoid office work.") Other highlights: duets centered on the giving and keeping of letters, a dancer who encounters a literal avalanche of artifacts and the fabulous ensemble section that showcases principal dancer Clare Antonioli as the harried object of demands. The conclusion of this ensemble section, in which Antonioli succumbs to the voices, is a striking illustration of an overwhelming world.
The entire performance is supported by a musical score created by Missoula favorites Bethany Joyce and John Sporman, featuring cello and piano. The duo creates a soundscape of ambient noise, buzzes and abstract clock-like ticking, birds and something that sounds like a far-off subway. The effect is to make the audience cognizant of the background noise that underscores daily life. By commissioning music and sound specifically for the dance, and Metcalf's art, French has taken the performance past the boundaries of dance into a well-envisioned multi-genre piece.
How to Open a Cupboard marks Bare Bait Dance's one-year birthday and it proves the company is coming into its own. This is a performance worth seeing, not just for the dancing, but also for the questions it raises about what we choose to hold on to, and what we choose to let go.
How to Open a Cupboard continues at the Downtown Dance Collective Fri., Oct. 26, at 8 PM and Sat., Oct. 27, at 2 PM and at 8 PM. $12/$10 advance.