In response to this question comes a unique multi-media exploration by Repertory Dance Theatre. A true collaboration in every sense of the term, The Weight of Memory is RDT’s final performance of the 2007-2008 season, in which they present an evening-length work by choreographers Della Davidson and Ellen Bromberg.
According to Bromberg, the genesis of the work is located in writer Karen Brennan’s 10-verse prose work Ten Birds. “I’ve always admired her writing and her ability to capture a moment of time,” says Bromberg. “She has such an amazing sense of detail and the psychological. We both just felt that there were so many images in her work, so really alive. We could also both relate to it on a personal level, as well as a metaphorical level.”
Each short verse of Ten Birds opens with the words, “When I woke up …” and investigates that solitary moment of immediacy one experiences upon waking—a moment when you find yourself scanning your surroundings, searching for clues to who and where you are. This bedroom setting additionally inspired the choreographer’s integration of a mattress made of memory foam, making the bed the focal point within the set design. According to Bromberg, the pliable material distinctly records the movement of the dancers in a very physical way that is evocative of actual memory.
These image-laden verses also provide a dynamic framework for The Weight of Memory as a whole, segmenting the intermission-free performance into 10 rather seamless sections, while simultaneously supplying a rather loose narrative structure. Furthermore, as the work is founded upon a prose-poem, it follows that the approach is predictably non-linear and often non-logical—or at least operating with a “liberated” logic—in ways that allow the duo to delve deeper into their weighty subject matter. Apparently, bucking all the traditional standards of staging left the collaborators with a clean slate on which to create a novel piece of modern-dance theater.
“It feels like a poem, in that often in poetry it is the spaces in between the words that speak,” says Bromberg. “I feel like that is what we are working with here, looking at movement as image. Often movement is language, but because other language is in the performance, I feel the movement takes on a different role.”
That was the intention when they chose to make use of those aforementioned multiple artistic languages—that is, forcing movement into a more congruous role with video projection, set design and the written word. The result is a carefully crafted aesthetic steeped in thought-provoking images. Add Brennan’s text and you get a genuine collaboration working off the critically acclaimed strengths of each participating individual artist.
“I feel like there are some really beautiful things in this piece, and Della and I are striving for a high level of integration and hybridity,” says Bromberg. “We are both bringing those liminal engagements to Karen’s text. It’s a very interesting cross section of interaction and true collaboration.
“It actually was a remarkable process in that we combined everything to create an image environment, a metaphoric environment that we use to explore the idea of memory and the major role it plays in our daily lives, both consciously and subconsciously.”
All this exploration and experimentation with text, media and movement was aimed at creating a distinct vision for the finished product. Such an environment was necessary when attempting to achieve a level of universality through a rather personal internal dialogue. Memory is, after all, something that shapes and molds each one of us—regardless of how much it actually weighs.
RDT’s The Weight of Memory @ Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway, April 10-13. Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday 2 p.m. 355-ARTS