IMPRESSIONS: Project 44 Dance at RWS Studios

IMPRESSIONS: Project 44 Dance at RWS Studios
Cecly Placenti

By Cecly Placenti
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Published on December 20, 2018
Justin Chao

December 8, 2019

Choreography/Direction: Gierre J Godley, Project 44 Dance

Dancers: Vincent Arzola, Alex Cottone, Gierre J Godley, Michael Parmelee

Lighting design: Ted Boyce-Smith and Eric Norby

Our sense of touch is so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take for granted. Not so in Project 44 Dance’s newest evening-length work, Dearest Charlotte. The men of Project 44 Dance — Vincent Arzola, Alex Cottone, Gierre J Godley, and Michael Parmelee — take their time with touch, giving it a solemnness and depth that is both familiar and captivating.

With the weight and gesture of their fingers, the dancers give physicality to the air around them, creating a world that envelopes the audience like a whisper. A hand caresses the smooth wooden surface, mindful and deliberate, of the stage’s only set piece — a wooden screen. Soulful fingers knot and slide sensually down the back of a neck. Palms cup and sculpt the air in muted shapes. These touches evoke the experience of remembering, the longing of it, and the attempt to stay linked to something that has passed beyond the realm of corporeal connection.

Man on belly extends one hand with clawed fingers
Project 44 Dance's Dearest Charlotte; Photo by Justin Chao. 

Dearest Charlotte explores the manifestation and embodiment of memory and how it affects our point of view. Inspired by artistic director Godley’s late grandmother, the work also tackles loss and acceptance. Ebbing and flowing between aggression and yielding, the piece cascades like a tide, layering emotion like sand along the shoreline. Explosions of movement and speed melt into elastic arabesques or floating arms that suspend time.

Godley’s textural movement is deeply emotional without being saccharine. His dancers move with both weightiness and abandon. A heavy thudding run splays a dancer to the floor. Immediately, he rises into an airy, spiraling turn as if he is a winter leaf caught by the wind. At various points, the dancers sit and stare into the distance, watching but not seeing each other, and it is as if we, the audience, are peering into their memories.

Man kicks with flexed foot while two men watch in shadows
Project 44 Dance's Dearest Charlotte; Photo by Justin Chao. 

To illustrate the fractured point of view that comes with processing grief, Godley subtly alters the audience’s perspective. Using a large wooden screen on wheels, the dancers intermittently shift its position to compartmentalize the space, much like we do with grief and memory. Sometimes, audience members have an incomplete view of the action. At one point, Alex Cottone performs a soft mesmerizing solo while, on the other side of the screen, it sounds as if another dancer is moving in a fast, aggressive way. His shadow occasionally flickers on the back wall — a remembrance dancing in and out of our consciousness.

Lighting designers Ted Boyce-Smith and Eric Norby create an atmosphere of shadow and haze using mostly side lighting. In one section, the lights go out; Cottone, Godley, and Parmelee shine flashlights on Azola as he slithers through a solo. While the lights rotate around him, parts of his movements are either emphasized or blurred, like memories eroding over time to become more about impressions than actuality.

Small white flowers are strewn across a dark floor
Project 44 Dance's Dearest Charlotte; Photo by Justin Chao. 

The most literal moment comes in the final scene. Each dancer places a flower on a makeshift coffin, standing close enough to touch yet remaining apart. Sighs of affirmation ripple through the audience. We have reached the point of wisdom and acceptance as a connection between the physical and ephemeral world is established through the shared act of remembering.

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