FALL and chatterbird in Collaboration

A Bending of Its Own Kind: Aspiration

Marisa Pace (Photo: Abby Whisenant)

On Sunday May 19th, chatterbird, a Nashville-based chamber ensemble, collaborated with aerial and contemporary ballet company FALL for their latest performance: A Bending of Its Own Kind: Aspiration. Founded in 2014, chatterbird “…explores alternative instrumentation, stylistic diversity, and interdisciplinary collaboration in order to create thoughtful, intimate, and inventive musical experiences.” FALL was founded in 2010 by Rebekah Hampton Barger to articulate the experience of those living with chronic pain and illness. A Bending of Its Own Kind is a dance performance piece created by Barger about her experience with severe scoliosis and chronic pain. As the years have gone on, the piece has expanded to include the stories of other individuals with chronic pain and Aspiration is the latest installment, which explores the connections between hope and breath, and what each of those means in the face of living with a chronic condition. In an interview with MCR, Barger cites a quote by Ted Chiang as inspiration for the title of the piece: “It is no coincidence that ‘aspiration’ means both hope and the act of breathing.” The music and movement for this piece were developed separately, with both choreographer and composers drawing inspiration from a discussion between five individuals who each live with a form of hypermobility disorder, along with several other comorbidities. During this performance, the composers performed a structured improvisation alongside the dancers.

A Bending of Its Own Kind: Aspiration was performed in Emerson Hall, a refurbished 1930’s-era church that had a space for a small ensemble: harp, gezheng (a chinese stringed instrument), violin, bass, and synth and percussion, along with two sets of aerial silks in a large metal frame. The performance included four pieces with four individual dancers: Hope // Breath, Knowledge // Empowerment, Looking Forward // Looking Back, and Grace // Acceptance, and a final work in which the four dancers performed together: Aspiration (in three parts).

Jasmine Clark (Photo: Abby Whisenant)

In the first part, Hope // Breath, Marisa Pace danced from one set of silks to the other, lifting them in a way that imitated the billowing sails of a ship. At one point she climbed up the silks and waved her arm like a bird in flight. Light on her feet, Pace beautifully illustrated the idea of hope. Jasmine Clark took over for Knowledge // Empowerment, climbing the silks and standing with her back straight, tall and in charge. She even moved the silks in such a way that she looked as though she was swinging effortlessly on a swing set. In Looking Forward // Looking Back, Alex Winer moved back and forth from one set of silks to the other, seeming to get stuck in the past, although reaching forward to the present. The struggle in reconciling the past with the present was evident in Winer’s frantic movements. Josie Baughman enters while Winer is still wrapped in the silks of the past, and frees her before starting the final piece, Grace // Acceptance. Baughman moves powerfully, climbing the silks and throwing her arms wide, embracing her reality. There is peace in this final work.

Aspiration (in three parts) begins with the sounds of slow breaths with all four dancers struggling to breathe or perhaps breathing through incredible pain. The jerky movements include strange positions with arched or curved backs and arms pressed against chests as they fight for breath. They move into frenetic dancing as they throw and twist the silks in a way that is almost opposite of the beautiful, soft billows of the Hope // Breath. At some points the dancers are in sync and at others they seem to be working against each other, until they begin to lean on each other. The poignant beauty of them holding each other up reminds the audience that we must help each other, love one another, and uplift one another. Those with chronic pain rely on each other for understanding, compassion, and assistance.

Alexandra Winer (Photo: Abby Whisenant)

The music was unobtrusive, providing a background meant to enhance rather than overcome. Because these are structured improvisations, there was a “sameness” to the works, one piece blending into the next.  I believe some of the dramatic effect is lost during improvisation, as they are unable to punctuate specific moments in the dance. However, the overall affect was beautifully dreamy, especially as night fell and the light coming in through the windows faded. Wu Fei on the guzheng in particular contributed to the ethereal nature of the pieces. Other members of the ensemble included: Timbre Cierpke on harp and vocals, Annaliese Kowert on violin, Paul Kowert on bass, and R. Aaron Walters on syth and percussion. As someone that struggles with a chronic illness on a daily basis, I was so grateful for this work and its exploration of chronic pain and illness. I particularly liked how the dancers embraced the painful or difficult moments, and still were able to find joy and peace.

Did you miss the chance to see this performance? I have good news for you: the musicians’ performances will be captured and incorporated into a performance of the full-length production of A Bending of Its Own Kind on June 1 and 2 in Knoxville, TN, hosted by Dragonfly Aerial Arts and Circus Studio.

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