Down a pebbled path flanked by tall grasses in an orchard hung with ripening fruit, we come to an archway fashioned of bent branches: The Portal. There, our Guides invite us to hang a slip of paper on which we’ve written something we wish to leave behind, after the cruel year we’ve just been through. (I write “Zoom.”)
“Journey with us through the Portal as we observe nature and explore our relationships to time, energy, and space,” one of the Guides says.
Earlier this week, a small group of us were invited to participate in a dress rehearsal for Re/Emergence, an outdoor performance ritual that “invites audiences to reflect, meditate and nurture a new vision of the future.” It takes place this weekend and next in the fields of Park Hill Orchard in Easthampton.
During the 50-minute show, the audience travels through the landscape into scenes where rhythm, movement and music wind around spoken text, passing through grief into rebirth and visions of a hopeful future.
It was collaboratively devised by an interdisciplinary collective of Valley artists and an ethnically diverse ensemble of performers: actors, dancers, singers, musicians. As director Jennifer Onopa told me later, the piece was inspired by something the Indian author Arundhati Roy wrote last year:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.
The show was developed as a series of metaphorical encounters reflecting “processes in nature that paralleled the transformations we were seeing around us.” The idea, she said, was to investigate the challenges of the past year through a more inclusive mode of artmaking as a model of future directions in theater.
Emerging from the Portal, we approach the edge of a natural amphitheater. A pair of long fabric panels line the ground and we read: When a wound opens it initiates an ancient cycle of rebirth, renewal and regeneration.
Far below us in the field, a quartet of red-gowned Wind Spirits are executing a sinuous ritual in movement and sound. This summons the Phoenix, a mournful figure in a long, trailing robe of pale muslin, who falls to earth, then rises, now wrapped in crimson like the attending spirits.
The next station presents a whimsical woodland fable. Before a trio of dormant flowers, a caterpillar is performing a self-celebrating dance to the beat of an African drum. “I like my long, voluptuous body! It’s my best asset.” She approaches a tent-like cocoon reluctantly, wary of transformation. As the flowers slowly re-emerge from winter’s hibernation, she bursts forth, a multihued butterfly. (Christina Beam designed the many and varied costumes for the piece.)
Then the Guides invite us into “an ancestral forest,” summoned by “a sacred song” – a song, as we discover, that cries “Freedom!” It’s sung and danced by a quartet of Tree Deities accompanied by a trio of musicians, while the Guides assemble an arboreal ramp on which the tree spirits ascend toward the forest canopy. (The sets for the piece were designed by Xinyuan Li.)
Finally we gather at the Mother Tree, where we each receive a gift to take with us and nurture as we go forward into that new world which, like the caterpillar, we’re approaching with hope and hesitation.
Re/Emergence plays June 11-13 & 18-20 at Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Rd., Easthampton, MA. Staggered start times: 6:00, 6:50 & 7:40pm each night. Tickets (by donation) & logistics here.
Photos by nikki lee
Portal photo by Chris Rohmann
In the Valley Advocate’s present bi-monthly publication schedule, Stagestruck will continue to be a regular feature, with additional posts online. Write me at [email protected] if you’d like to receive notices when new pieces appear.
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