Art Come to Life – Dancing Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography

Review by guest writers Morpheus Kostromin and Gabe Valentine

Saturday, February 11th, 2023, art sprang to life on the stage of the Norton Simon Museum, thanks to the masterful work of Nancy Evans Dance Theatre. In this premiere showing of Imprint, we experienced six pieces, each inspired by an artwork featured in the museum’s current exhibition Ink, Paper, Stone: Six Women Artists and the Language of Lithography. Through the performance the two dimensional artworks were transformed in the third and fourth dimensions by masterful use of costumes, props, gestures, and rhythm. The result was a collection of dance pieces that visually moved the artwork through time and space while also recontextualizing the work with additional characterization and narrative.

The first work, BANG, was inspired by Untitled (Metaphors and Metamorphoses IX), 1967 by Hedda Sterne. This piece, like the majority of the concert, was choreographed by the company founder and director, Nancy Evans Doede. The dancers were attached to each other with a wide black nylon cloth that connected to their shoulders and backs (costume designed by Katrina Amerine), pairing movers into duets and a trio. The dancers balanced and rotated as they twisted and untwisted the fabric connecting them, coming together into group shapes, then separating again. Finally, after great anticipation, the pinwheel of dancers joined to become the shape of Sterne’s lithograph. The second work, Seeing Red, inspired by Untitled #4, 1966 by Gego, featured a large prop (designed by Katrina Amerine and Jenn Logan) consisting of a tangle of red ropes between two poles. The dancers moved through grounded and angular shapes, behind the barrier before they engaged with the ropes, danced within them, and ultimately became ensnared by them.

Image of dancers in performance. Large red prop with ropes is held by two dancers as another reaches through
Nancy Evan’s Dance Theatre’s Seeing Red, inspired by Untitled #4, 1966 by Gego. Photo by Jenn Logan.

The next work, Hollywood Nap, was inspired by Hollywood Nap (Bliss Suite I), 1967 by Irene Siegel. Here the prop and costume (designed by Jenn Logan) directly emulated the artwork in its design with the two dancers portraying the sleeping women from Siegel’s artwork. The duet was subtle yet humorous. Long moments of stillness and slow, small gestures were contrasted by strong character work. The next piece, Blockheads, was inspired by Untitled, 1967 by Luise Nevelson. This piece was the one piece choreographed by long time company member Jenn Logan. Featuring two big, black prop pieces (also designed by Logan), the two dancers used them as masks as they mirrored and tilted towards and away from each other. Extending and flexing their legs (in red footed tights) and arms in satisfying rhythms, the dancers interacted with the prop, unaware of each other. As the piece progressed, they began a dialogue through body parts in rhythm, culminating in the moment when the two finally saw each other.

The fifth work was a solo (performed by Ashleigh Doede) titled Liberation, inspired by Desert Plant, 1965 by Ruth Asawa. Doede began stage right in a white costume (designed by Katrina Amerine and Jenn Logan) with a spriggy, red headpiece, while center stage there was a barely visible pile of red materials. In a process of self-discovery, Doede traveled across the stage to eventually interact with the prop center-stage; the strong projector light from the front of the space created bold shadows on the backdrop and a pop-up storybook feel. The formerly unidentifiable prop revealed itself as a hoop skirt that the dancer donned. Erupting into turns and big circular pathways, the character ultimately found joy as she turned round and round and the piece drew to a close. The last work, Waterfall, was inspired by Tablet Litho 6, 1968 by Eleanore Mikus. Beginning as a group, the work flowed into two duets, then a trio, and finished with the whole company. Dancers moved on stage in meandering pathways, like droplets, flowing from one idea into another. The costume was a simple white leotard and pants, but as the piece evolved, and white, oval props (designed by Nancy Evans Doede, constructed by James Doede) came into play, the dancers became the canvas for a projected image of the original artwork over the movers. The brilliant blue reflected off of the undulating props creating a fascinating waterfall effect and making a satisfying finish for the show as a whole.

Dancer in a hoops skirt and spriggy head piece.
Ashleigh Doede in Liberation, choreographed by Nancy Evans Doede, inspired by Desert Plant, 1965 by Ruth Asawa. Photo by Jenn Logan.

Throughout all of the works there was a continuous use of gestures that simultaneously help carry through the textures within the lithographs while discerning new characters and story for a performative experience. Playing with interesting rhythms and embodying the spirit of the original artwork through character kept the audience engaged and interested. Turning on the house lights during pauses between works was a nice touch, as it allowed audience members to reference the program and familiarize themselves with the artwork that served as inspiration. The show set out to represent the lithographs of the exhibition, and in doing so, brought us along on a rich and imaginative journey. The use of projected images further supported the links between the art work and the dancing interpretation. Traversing through two dimensional imagery of these six groundbreaking female artists, the audience was immersed in a world where shapes, lines, and colors were transformed into characters and movement arcs driven by rhythm. The hour-long performance was set to an assortment of different musical selections from Michael Wall, Pierre Delecto, and Slow Attack Ensemble. Performed by a cast of skilled movers, Tara Aghaian, Katrina Amerine, Noel Dilworth, Ashleigh Doede, Jen Hunter, Jenn Logan, Marco Tacandong, Jacob Schmeider-Hacker, and Lydia Morgan, Nancy Evans Dance Theatre’s Imprint, successfully merged the two-dimensional with three-dimensional in an evocative and rich performance perfect for the museum space and its patrons.

Close up of a sleeping woman with smeared lipstick.
NEDT’s take on Hollywood Nap (Bliss Suite I), 1967 by Irene Siegel. Photo by Jenn Logan.

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