Visiting Artist | July 9 - 23, 2018
Iron Jane / March Under an Empty reign
Donna Uchizono came to MANCC to develop two works: her evening-length work Iron Jane, to premiere at The Chocolate Factory in 2019, and a second work, March Under an Empty reign, which will premiere in the NY Quadrille at the Joyce Theater in Fall 2018.
On Iron Jane she writes, “I am in awe of the courage it takes to be human and, in these charged times, remain humane.” From this perspective, the work “... explores the hidden emotional burdens we each carry, alluded to only in the weighted pauses between words, skin colors, and other unspoken signifiers that create distance between us.” The work features five dancers, an original score by composer David Shively, and visual design by Janet Echelman.
Working from several choreographic images--such as expansively arched wings of iron, fiercely shaking hips with grounded weight, and a lifted sternum offered skyward--the piece opens with a challenging exertion of the body, which unfolds the dancers’ tough exteriors, exposing a new kind of intimacy over time.
In the space between words and dance, performer and spectator, Iron Jane attempts to provide a forum to share the weight of vulnerability, publicly and privately, and offer transcendence grounded in grit. Uchizono writes, “as we strive upward toward an ethical grace, we are simultaneously charged with the grounded weight of our humanity--our iron wings.”
As a female American artist of Asian ancestry working in the predominantly white lineage of post-modern experimental dance, Uchizono has had to carve a space for herself within the wider landscape. While questions of race have not explicitly informed Uchizono’s practice, the weight of perceptions based in identity are ever-present. In this work, Uchizono delves more deeply into the implications of racialized bodies moving through space and time. Members of Uchizono’s racially diverse creative team were also asked to draw upon their own personal experiences to collaboratively inform the work. In these insecure times, uncertainty has become a necessary methodology for Uchizono’s creative process, which relies heavily upon her ability to listen closely, as the work is revealed in dialogue with the dance itself, which Uchizono cultivates in concert with collaborators and audience members.
The piece is centered around carefully choreographed movement sections that slowly evolve, shifting the focus from performer to spectator. This shift explores how dancers, in a quietly heroic way, can acknowledge and embody the immeasurable weight of a shared vulnerability created between the dancers and the audience. The piece culminates in a return to its initial choreographic format with the newfound gravity of shared experience. In this way, Iron Jane implicates both performer and audience member, intertwining their experiences and asking them to hold the weight of another.
During their time in Tallahassee and at MANCC, Uchizono and her cast were invited to attend a rehearsal of the local chapter of the California-based Threshold Choir, which gathers to sing songs of comfort and joy to those “at the thresholds of life.” Founded in the 1990’s by musician Kate Munger, the Threshold Choir was inspired by the caring for a loved one dying of HIV/AIDs. Now, with chapters across the United States, volunteer singers come to the bedsides of hospice patients with the goal of bringing comfort and solace through shared energy and song. In the spirit of exploring shared weight, and honoring one’s life through creative acts, the Tallahassee Threshold Choir allowed Uchizono’s cast to experience their rehearsal process, taking turns as the “receivers” of song. Uchizono found kinship with the Threshold Singers in the common practices of “close listening” and “finding comfort in uncertainty.”
The company also continued to explore how to acknowledge and embody the immeasurable weight of human exchange with audience members by opening the doors on the rehearsal process to members of the public for a work-in-progress showing. Students from an Introduction to Theater class, members of the Threshold Choir, and School of Dance faculty and students were in attendance at the showing.
As a part of MANCC’s Embedded Writers Initiative, Uchizono and her collaborators were joined by Sophia Wang, contributing writer for Open Space, SFMOMA’s online and live interdisciplinary commissioning platform. Funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this initiative is designed to support the re-imagining of dance writing conventions in order to better respond to and engage with a wider range of ever-evolving contemporary forms. Additionally, funds were provided by the Sustainable Arts Foundation to support Uchizono as a parent artist.
March Under an Empty reign premiered in the NY Quadrille at the Joyce Theater in the Fall 2018. Iron Jane was set to premiere in 2020 at the Chocolate Factory Theater's new facility in Long Island City, Queens NY, but has been postponed due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.