Written by Sarah Beales
Photography by Lisa Barker
One of my favorite things about The Yards is that fairytale transformation that I feel when I visit the space. It’s a feeling akin to Alice, have I eaten the small caked marked “eat me” or drank the vial marked “drink me” today? You never know what to expect.
Walking into the gallery for the “In You Is Home” dance performance I see the gallery has delivered another fairytale-like transformation. Black fabric covers all the windows, creating a twilight scene on a woods setting. Evergreen branches hang from the walls and ceiling, while knobby branches create the doorway into the dance floor.
The dance floor itself is flanked by about 60 chairs and pillows for the audience. It is surrounded by a frame of branches that hold up translucent purple curtains. Behind these curtains is the dance floor that has a purple velvet couch and a piano.
“In You Is Home” is a collaborative dance piece between Erika Ruegemer & Co. and The Pickpockets, who created an original score for the performance. (You can read more here: http://attheyards.com/2012/04/25/in-you-is-home/) I arrive early and sit alone in the audience, listening to the pre-show jitters work their way out in forms of singing, dancing, and laughter. I watch the dancers sit in stretching poses that make me ashamed I can’t even bend down and touch my toes. The anticipation builds until someone says, “people are arriving” and Erika snaps her fingers and laughs, “backstage!”
Here is where John, Phil, and Joel—the boys of The Pickpockets—start playing behind the gauzy curtains. Percussion, piano, violin, it’s a melancholy mood these boys are setting as people start file into the space, looking for seats. True multi-instrumentalists, every time I look at the band it seems as they are playing something different, swapping piano for drumsticks or accordions.
The Pickpockets, sans the pipes of the group: bohemian gypsy incarnate Shannon Scally, play for about 25 minutes before the show begins. As the show begins I notice the band does more than just accompany the dancers, the band is actually a part of the story, acting as sort of spirits throughout the performance. The main spirit guide is Shannon, who seduces and comforts the main character, Matt, through every scene of the performance.
The show is broken up into the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Spring begins as petals are strewn on the floor.
The show starts off with the main character, Matt, lying asleep on the couch. Shannon is on the outside of the curtains walking the perimeter, beckoning him to wake with a siren-like singing call. Slowly Matt wakes up and we are presented with a beautiful, athletic routine performed on the couch. Enter dancer Alana and we see the passion, lust, anger, and sadness of a relationship played out in a stunning, commanding routine. It ends with Alana storming off stage and Matt looking a bit hopeless. Shannon quietly lulls him back to peace by alternating cooing and blowing gently on his face.
The season shifts into summer, grass is strewn on the floor.
Summer begins with Matt and a new woman, Erika, who shows up angry with him. Together they dance a passionate, powerful dance that carries the intensity of a bad argument. The dancers at times mingle with the spirits of the bands. One interaction I particularly enjoyed was that of Erika holding the violin bow at various angles while Phil shifted his violin in different poses to play against it.
Jessica is also introduced in this season, another woman that is caught in the web Matt has spun. They perform a light, airy dance of love. At one point Jessica dances to the piano and performs a beautiful piece while Joel plays along on the piano with her. The music rises to a cacophony while on stage we see three dancers in three very different places, emotionally.
Summer turns to fall; leaves are strewn on the floor.
This was one of my favorite acts because it when everything comes to head with Matt and his three women. This scene felt like Matt against the world. Despite his attempts to keep them separate, the women unite against Matt and dance in unison at him, while The Pickpockets circled them in a way that felt like a brawl. Eventually the women all line up behind the couch and watch him with cold, emotionless faces. The band sits on the couch and Shannon has returned to outside the curtains, calling to him once again with her breathy, siren call.
Matt begins to tear down the curtains one by one. As one curtain is ripped down, one woman stalks off in fury. This occurs until all the curtains are down, all his women are gone, and Matt is exposed fully to the audience for the first time: spent, broken, and alone. He rests his head in Shannon’s lap, looking shattered as she calms him once again with her breath.
Fall turns to winter and the entire dance floor is covered with snow.
The room is dark when Jessica walks in and lights a candle. She sits at the piano and plays an absolutely breath-taking song that brings music and melancholy to Robert Frost’s poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Shannon and Jessica sing, “the woods are lovely, dark and deep / but I have promises to keep / and miles to go before I sleep / and miles to go before I sleep” to music so heart wrenching it made me ache.
Alana, Jessica, and Erika perform a final dance in the snow as Matt watches from the couch, completely vacant. The girls leave and Shannon starts singing while Matt paces, “I cannot carry all your sorrow ‘cuz i have my own. I have my own. Just remember that light, remember that light in you is home. You have a home, IN YOU is home.”
Shannon repeatedly sings this to Matt as her and the band leave the room. They play this final song for a few minutes in the distance, and then all is silent. The room stays quiet and dark for about a minute, in which time it seemed as though the audience was taking a collective breath and processing the story we’d just been told, before breaking into a standing ovation.