Looking for a few adjectives to describe the style of choreographer Pat Graney? Try fearless, adventurous, striking, or bold – and that won’t even cover half of the catalog of an extraordinary body of work.
Graney has choreographed company pieces, solo pieces, theatrical pieces, and, through Keeping The Faith, healing pieces for women serving time in prison. A powerful influence for more than twenty years in the Seattle dance scene, she’s inspired numerous artists to follow her very big strides in making a place for women in choreography.
Her most recent venture finds her collaborating with artists from several spheres to tell the dark fairytale of the The Skriker, a shapechanging fairy roaming a fantastical London. The play runs from now through Nov. 11 at the Erickson Theatre, 1524 Harvard.
Graney took some time out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions about the show via e-mail.
First, what attracted you to The Skriker?
Janice Findley approached me to work on the project – I had never heard of the play, but of course, I know of the work of Caryl Churchill. I remember Janice’s film work and was very impressed that she was now working in theater. The attraction to the project is that a large portion of the play is ‘movement based’ and that Janice also comes from another medium – film.
There’s a “dance cast” as well as an actor cast in this production. How do the two interact?
The dance performers are characters in the play, although they do not have dialogue. The dance characters interact with each other and with the main character, The Skriker. They are in the Other world – the world of fairies and Kelpies and Scriggans and Bogels, Brownies and Green Ladies – an incredible imaginary world where many things are possible that cannot happen in the reality that the speaking characters inhabit.
The other world folks do not interact with the speaking characters world, other than occupying the same physical space. One of the girls, Josie, does sense the characters sometimes, but doesn’t actually see them.
What was the most difficult part in choreographing this show?
The hardest part was trying to see a through-line to communicate to the dancers, so they could form a path to navigate their onstage worlds. This was done at the end of the process, and the full circle is now complete. Because of space requirements, the two casts rehearsed separately at first, and then were more fully integrated towards the end of the process. This was difficult, but necessary.
The easiest was working with an incredible cast of mature performers who not only have technique and finesse, but also a very developed sense of improvisational movement. They are superlative!
How do you convey “underwordly” (as the text calls it) in dance?
The costumes go a long way in helping to communicate the ‘underworld’ in the piece. Some of these costumes have very restricted movement characteristics, which create a very small parameter in which to work – which is an excellent vehicle for creating movement! The Spriggan has very, very long legs which limits his movement and the character uses his upper body for locomotion. The Bogle has a rod through his costume, which makes his movement very limited in another way – his upper body is more linear and restricted. The dark fairy comes down on a rope with pointe shoes – another set of restrictions. These restrictions add so much to the creative process – they’re really amazing. The costumes were designed by Eve Cohen, who is an incredible designer. Director Janice Findley has very particular ideas about the movement of each character – we worked together, came up with movement, some was thrown out, some kept. She was the ‘keeper of the flame’ so to speak – and guided the overall vision of the work.
After more than twenty years in the Seattle dance scene, what are some of the most encouraging things you see being done today?
I think there are many young independent artists creating more of an integrated amalgam of forms that include movement but perhaps do not restrict themselves specifically to dance. I think this is very exciting….and encouraging.
What areas or opportunities for choreographers do you think are being missed?
I think there could be more use made of in-town local choreographers/directors in plays and other live performance work.
If you were coming to The Skriker’s special performance on Halloween, what costume would you wear?
I might be the Hag – I love her huge wig and layered clothing look – that sweep the floors as she moves.
To learn more about Pat Graney’s work and upcoming performances, visit The Pat Graney Company website.