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AUDIENCE REVIEW: So I Married Abraham Lincoln by Paufve Dance
So I Married Abraham Lincoln by Paufve Dance
Company / Show / Event
So I Married Abraham Lincoln by Paufve Dance
Venue / Location
Dance Mission Theatre, San Francisco
A bit about you:
(your occupation, the last time you moved, your website, etc.)
Shelly Gilbride, PhD Performance Studies UC Davis
It has been a week and I am still thinking about Randee Paufve’s ambitious new dance work So I Married Abraham Lincoln that premiered last Friday night at Dance Mission Theatre in San Francisco. Mary Todd Lincoln was the inspiration for the work that explored the public pressures and objectification of First Lady-hood. For me, that specific history was just a whisper of a reference. What I witnessed was an expression of the multifaceted nature of womanhood. That theme may seem overdone, but what I experienced was anything but. The originality of the choreography and the commitment of the dancers made the experience fresh, raw and intense. The piece is only going to get better as it grows beyond last weekend’s premiere.
Paufve Dance is an eclectic company with dancers of different shapes and ages. Paufve seems to relish in her dancers’ individuality, from the long, Zen-like quality of Katie Kruger to the athleticism of Nadia Oka to the powerful quirkiness of Mo Miner. What unifies the dancers is an energetic commitment to the movement and a grounded honesty. Nothing is put on. There is no overwrought emotion even though the muscular intensity of the movement sometimes seems like it would lend itself to a grunt or a sigh. Somehow the movement is full of athletic effort and tranquility at the same time.
Paufve considers this a work in progress and I’m sure as the work tours, it will continue to develop. I’ve experienced more polished and more cohesive dance works, but the rawness and the fragmented nature of this piece was an integral part of the experience. The audience followed the dancers through the studios and the theatre space at Dance Mission Theatre. We were corralled into two studio spaces, awkwardly sitting on the floor and finally, we were herded into the theatre space, walking among the dancers to sit satisfyingly on real chairs. It has become quite popular now to move audiences around, disrupting their expectations of the theatrical experience by changing their environment. I’ve written about the phenomenon of activating audiences in new ways and I’ve been a fan of this in the past, in Joe Goode’s work and in works like Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More. But I’m starting to get a bit ambivalent about it as it gains in popularity.
The multiple spaces enabled Paufve to create different dance worlds for the audience to experience. It is practical; allowing set and costume changes to happen seamlessly and negating the need for traditional transitions. A few years ago, I probably would have been satisfied by the novelty of that experience. But now, I need a really strong reason to get up and move from space to space. The second of the two studio experiences satisfied this need by providing a completely original experience from the overture and the third movement in the theatre. The overture and the third section could have been in the same space, but the second movement, a theatricalized sance, was an entirely different manifestation of history and womanhood. The duet between Mo Miner and Nadia Oka invoked the spirit of women past. As if we were witnessing a private ancestral ritual, the audience scurried to sit along the wall of the studio, surrounding a low candle-lit alter as Nadia swayed to the sound of tea-cups gently clanking together as they hung like a chandelier from the ceiling. The space felt ethereal and otherworldly while the duet felt at times possessed and at others primal. When the duet ended, I wanted more and I wanted to sit amongst the tinkling tea-cups for a while longer.
What has stuck with me about this piece, what keeps me thinking about it days later, is that I want to be the kind of woman that I saw represented on that stage: strong, funny, intelligent, vulnerable, sensual women who find power, freedom and creativity within the constraints of living in society, the pressure of the public eye, the bounds of a marriage, the compromises of relationships, the competing aspects of the self. The beauty in Paufve’s movement is the juxtaposition of explosive athleticism and a lyrical fluidity. She interweaves sweeping movement phrases with a gestural vocabulary that is honest and vulnerable. Her movement is candid, as if she and her dancers are revealing juicy and personal secrets to the audience. I feel privileged to have been let in on those dance secrets.