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A Day in the Life of The Pharmacy Project

A Day in the Life of The Pharmacy Project
Theo Boguszewski

By Theo Boguszewski
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Published on September 30, 2015

Nora Petroliunas on What’s in a Name

Premiering Pearl / Directed by: Nora Petroliunas
Performed by: Jake Bone, Lindsay Lee, Amber Morgan, and Hsiao-Jou Tang
Triskelion Arts, Muriel Schulman Theater
106 Calyer Street, Brooklyn (Enter on Banker Street)
10/1 and  10/2 at 8pm

For more info and tickets, go to Triskelion Arts


"OMG, she's such a Jessica,” Nora Petroliunas laughs as she mimics her fictional evaluation of a woman’s name.

A woman’s name name isn’t arbitrary. Intrinsically woven into her identity, her name holds the history and mythology of all similarly titled predecessors. For several years, Petroliunas’ Brooklyn-based dance company, The Pharmacy Project, has explored this concept using individual character investigation in what Petroliunas calls her “Female Celebrity Series.”

Since 2013, the company has produced: Diana, Tammy, Louisa and Joan, full-length shows exploring female archetypes. The latest named installment will premiere at Triskelion Arts on Thursday, October 1.

Three dancers dressed in black intertwine their bodies in the shadows
Diana, Photo courtesty of Nora Petroliunas

Often in the “celebrity” shows the choreography veers from explicit characterization to more abstract representation. Diana, the first of the series, paid tribute to two timeless Dianas — a princess and a goddess.

Says Petroliunas,“Diana, was clearly about Princess Diana. Because who else do you think of when you hear the name Diana? But it was also about the Greek goddess [of the hunt]. Tammy, on the other hand, wasn’t modeled after anyone specifically. I'm not sure exactly who she was in real life, but the character she developed into was definitely some kind of prostitute.”

Two women dressed in trench coats and head scarves
Tammy, Photo courtesty of Nora Petroliunas

Unlike her other name dances the upcoming premiere is inspired by children’s fiction. After reading Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid," Petroliunas became fascinated with the protagonist. The Andersen tale—unlike the syrupy Disney version—tells the story of a young mermaid’s sacrifice for a love that is unrequited. “I like that it's dark,” asserts Petroliunas.

Anderson never gave his mermaid a name, but Petroliunas, fascinated by the creature whose story has been passed down for generations, chose to call her Pearl.

Louisa, Photo courtesty of Nora Petroliunas

An opportunity to watch The Pharmacy Project in rehearsal allows some insight into the company’s creative world. Petroliunas prefers to work more as director than choreographer. Her performers, many of whom have danced with her for upwards of five years, are integral to the operation and generate much of the movement.

“If there's a day that I come to rehearsal and get the sense that the dancers want to be told what to do, I do that. For the most part though…I feel that dancers are generally more comfortable performing movement that they’ve created inside of their own bodies rather than trying to imitate movement that comes from someone else.”

Petroliunas is expert at using the body to convey recognizable images. The dancers grasp for hands, elbows, and shoulders as they reach, twisting their limbs to describe the fibrous web of a ship’s tangled ropes amidst treacherous waves. While Lindsay Lee gracefully reclines, propped up by one arm with her head tilted back on a diagonal, we are given the illusion of long, flowing hair. Her legs appearing glued-together, seem to form a snake-like tail. Suddenly we see a mermaid lounging on a rock, watching for her prince.

Joan, Photo courtesty of Nora Petroliunas

Assembling the right group of unique movers is crucial to Petroliunas particularly because her choreography involves perpetual physical contact. “One day, I think I need to make a section where no one touches,” she jokes.

Petroliunas describes her dances as visits to the past “combining historical fiction with choose-your-own-adventure.” While she tends towards narrative, the brilliance of the work lies in the fact that she never shoves plot line down our throats. Her stories leave space for the audience to infuse their own experience, thus they become more accessible.

Realizing that  “contemporary concert dance” doesn’t always make for an easy date night, Pertroliunas muses, "I want to make dance that you can bring your boyfriend to.”


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