Photograph by Darryl Ferruci
The Hang of It: Jenna Blue (top) and Rene Souliere Smith are spirits of the desert in 'Hands Left Behind,' this weekend and next at the 418 Project.
Something in the Air
Mir & A's haunting new production is a tale of death and rebirth in the desert.
By Traci Hukill
An ethereal droning begins in the 418 Project dance studio as practice for Hands Left Behind gets under way. Curled on the floor beneath long pleated ribbons of maroon fabric rigged to the ceiling, two women begin to stir. Rising, winding themselves around the ribbon, they bend and twist in time to the music, limbs unfolding with embryonic, otherworldly grace. In the corner a man slowly lifts himself from the floor and makes his way toward the women. As he approaches, one of the dancers lunges toward him in slow motion, reaching for him, but he passes by, looking in the wrong direction. A voice speaks over the atmospheric minor chords: Sometimes, the bones even sing at midday. ... I wander out here in the pounding heat of summer, my feet sore, my head spinning out of control. ... I can't see them but they are here, beckoning me.
Mir & A Company's production of Hands Left Behind treads a line between literal and artistic interpretation. Based on events in the life of Tucson Citizen crime reporter Charles Bowden, who wandered in the Sonoran desert for six months after a breakdown and emerged determined to protect the delicate desert environment, the aerial theatrical dance incorporates prose poetry from Bowden's book Inferno. Actor Mike Dion portrays Bowden throughout the many movements of the piece as he progresses from damaged soul to seeker of answers to man of purpose. Dancers Miranda Janeschild (who directs the company), Abra Allen, Jenna Blue, Rene Souliere Smith, Rivera Sun, Noel Wetzel and fire dancer Marina Solonga embody the psychological and natural forces at work; in the beginning, when Bowden embarks on his journey, they're cowgirls rarin' to go on an adventure. Later they become the spirits of the desert, dangerous and beautiful, seducing and haunting Bowden and ultimately catalyzing his spiritual rebirth. Connecting each phase of the story is a minimalist score by John Zorko, performed by cellist Trey Donovan and singer Aimee Page.
Janeschild says the idea to mount an aerial theatrical production of Bowden's story arose a year ago after she heard him on the radio. His account resonated with her own yearning to do something for the environment through her art.
"What he did was he turned this desert that he walked into into a national monument," she says, "so it just links all these aspects: If you're introspective, can you do anything in the world? Heal it in any way? Yes, I can do something about the environment, through personal transformation."
Janeschild, a petite and compact brunette with a shock of white in her curly hair, says aerial theater is the perfect medium for telling Bowden's story of symbolic death and rebirth because it can be so poetic when stripped of the Cirque de Soleil-style flash.
"Even though aerial theater can be spectacular, I'm not interested in that world," she says. "I'm interested in the poetic and introspective world. When you see people hanging upside down in the air, it just opens you up to that."
MIR & A COMPANY performs 'Hands Left Behind' Friday-Sunday, Nov. 14-23, at 8pm at the 418 Project, 418 Front St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $20 advance/$25 door; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/42985.
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