Disjointed journey

Outside of Kissing Rock

By Mara McEwin
Directed and choreographed by Emily Bunning
Treehouse Shakers
HERE Arts Center
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Rebecca Longworth

Mara and Emily (Mara McEwin and Emily Bunning) are best friends who grew up "twenty-six miles apart/twenty-six miles together" in rural Wyoming. McEwin penned the words of their stories and Bunning staged them in dance for Outside of Kissing Rock, an example of dance theater that can legitimately call itself both. It is an emotionally intimate but accessible piece created by artists who clearly cherish the fullness of their hybrid medium as well as their own friendship and collaboration.

The audience was prepared for their journey into two Wyoming childhoods by earthy folk music and slide images of wide-open spaces and careworn rural buildings projected onto screens at the sides of the stage. The Zen austerity of the stage, set by Shula Francis with only white screens and a small circle of stones, helped to erase awareness of the architectural and logistical clutter of New York City. Then the journey began with a cinematic train ride designed by Jenna Park, in which the recorded sound of wheels on tracks mimicked the stuttered view through train windows of the Wyoming hills, sky, and towns projected on the back wall.

As the film ended, four performers entered a world where the emotional landscape needed no introduction. Growing up together, each girl carries a separate sadness. Emily violently loses her mother, but retains the love of her lonely family. Mara feels neglected by her divorced parents but finds solace in Emily's friendship, using disobedience and drugs to make her voice heard and as an often self-destructive escape. Karen Lee Pickett deftly narrated and played characters including Mara's scowling, paintbrush-wielding mother and swaggering, alcoholic father. McEwin and Bunning danced skillfully, and narrated in sometimes artificially declamatory style. McEwin's writing is poetic, but with its focus on each woman's individual past, often has the feel of extended exposition for the story of their friendship. Though ultimately affecting, Kissing Rock squanders some opportunity to tell its most immediate story, that between the performer-creators on stage.

Lara Hayes-Giles fluently danced Bunning's choreographic vocabulary, which features tilts and bodies at varying angles to themselves, close-body lifts, and delicately concentrated motions for just hands or feet. Fulfilling the Treehouse Shakers' mission to juxtapose movement with text, Bunning imbued the entire piece with choreography that was sometimes evocative of McEwin's language and other times occurred in parallel abstraction to it. Though always pretty, it was during the more abstract sections that the choreography began to repeat itself. When the dances were more textually inspired, and especially given props to play with, Bunning displayed a satisfying ingenuity. Dancers jumped, spun, and seemed to fly on padded barstools; they also threw, passed, dropped, and carefully placed the stones from the downstage left corner. The piece culminated in a stunning sequence propelled by Mara's story, which has led her to a frantic acid trip recounted while she placed stones one by one on her outstretched arm. With no space left for more stones, her arm suddenly went slack. Stones clattered to the ground and Mara was jolted awake, a fear of death for once allowing her to cherish life as much as Emily's friendship.

Box Score

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Choreography: 2
Acting: 1
Dancing: 2
Sets (including projections): 2
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Rebecca Longworth