Impressions of Jill Sigman/thinkdance's "Weed Heart"
At Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
Choreography, concept, and assemblages by Jill Sigman
Performed by Jill Sigman and Katrina De Wees
Live original score by Kristin Norderval
Lighting Design by Asami Morita
New York looks to be a city constructed almost entirely from manmade stuff: steel, concrete, glass, towering ambition. Even the places and spaces for nature display the imprint of humans. Along the city’s grid, the pristinely manicured lawns of parks intermingle with tidy flowerbeds edged in wrought iron. In the battle between man versus nature, man seems to have won.
But look again.
Weeds sprout from cracks in the sidewalks, and trees push forth from the asphalt. This flora reaches toward the sky, where the sun doesn’t discriminate. Our control over nature is, perhaps, born of illusion rather than reality.
In Jill Sigman/thinkdance’s Weed Heart, she offers an impassioned meditation on observation and discernment. Part installation, part traditional dance piece, and part celebration, Sigman reframes the weed, unloved and unwanted, into something worthy of respect and consideration.
Under the skylight at 280 Gibney rests a makeshift garden in which scraggly plants in plastic buckets and a red Radio Flyer wagon encircle pillows. It’s a place to unwind, to contemplate, to appreciate the lively profusion of greenery.
Downstairs, though, is where the action is. Before entering the performance space, Sigman, tiny and quick like a hummingbird, offers the audience tea boiled from scavenged leaves. We arrange ourselves along the perimeter of Studio A where three chandeliers, plants in wire mesh or a swoop of metal, dangle from the ceiling. A collection of rangy weeds in mismatched containers lies near the window. It’s an enchanted garden designed with a reduce-reuse-recycle mindset.
Videos of Sigman relating anecdotes — her father’s heart problems, New York’s landscape in the 17th century — bookend Weed Heart. In between these, Sigman dances and then stills herself, stills herself and then dances. She flutters, she kicks, she arcs her hips, and she twitches her fingers as if incanting a spell. A heart-shaped leaf with two holes torn for eyes adorns her face, a fairy mask of sorts.
Like life, Sigman’s trajectories are often circular. She zips in rambunctious counterclockwise loops to Kristin Norderval’s eerie chants, which are girded by droning electronica. Several times, she climbs onto her tiptoes, her body listing toward the center of a circle. Toward the end, Sigman lies prone, and Katrina De Wees (a gracious presence) places seedlings wrapped in cloth on her torso and then drizzles water over them. Norderval gives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by blowing sound into Sigman. Awoken, literally and metaphorically, Sigman removes the leaf from her face and kneels, her journey from life to death back to life seemingly complete.
The finale lifts the audience from our passive reverence. Soup is passed around; we drink, and it is delicious. A walk is proposed; we visit a Paulownia tree growing in a parking lot, and it is beautiful. Weed Heart ends there, with us — sated bellies, hopeful spirits — gathered around a tree, the zooming cars and graffiti-smeared signs of Chambers Street forgotten.
Sigman can come across as a touch batty. She talks to plants, and they talk back to her. She likes weeds, something nobody really likes. Yet Sigman seduces, easily and effectively, thanks to her earnestness. With quiet intensity and with unapologetic vulnerability, she invites us to muse over preconceived notions of utility. Weeds, like dance, can be questioned but never denied or discounted. Written on both stalks and limbs is the past, and unbidden, weeds and dance will continue to crop up in the nooks and crannies of a world that’s forgotten usefulness begins with imagination.
So look again.
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