Body Stories: Teresa Fellion Dance and Kristin Hatleberg in ‘Take Root’: The dynamic meditation of dance art 

Body Stories: Teresa Fellion Dance in 'Take Root'. Photo by Stephen Ronaghan.
Body Stories: Teresa Fellion Dance in 'Take Root'. Photo by Stephen Ronaghan.

Green Space, Queens, NY (and via Vimeo).
April 8, 2022.

“Mindfulness” is a buzzword of the modern world, as society explores different ways to heal and move forward with more connection and flourishing. For some, it might bring to mind sitting in silence on a meditation cushion. Yet, one can be mindful anywhere, anytime – because it simply means appreciating the fullness of this very moment. The double bill Take Root presented two deeply thoughtful works, each with unique and dynamically meditative qualities: in their own ways, reminding us to breathe and settle into the right here and right now.  

Body Stories: Teresa Fellion Dance’s Continually Healing, choreographed by the company’s Founding Director Teresa Fellion in collaboration with the dancers, kicked off the program. The work is a layered, memorable look at how – within ourselves and in how we are in the world with others – we move toward healing and our highest self. Through a contemplative and soulful quality, the piece told a story in movement of moving from isolation to authentic connection. 

It began with two dancers, moving separately from each other and not (yet) acknowledging each other. Their movement was highly gestural, internal, and not easily described in words (not in a way that could do it justice). As if in relishing all of its possibility – both minute and grand – the dancers took their time. 

They even found stillness occasionally, almost as if to let the resonance of movement slowly dissipate – like the sound of a rung bell slowly becoming quieter until it becomes silence. A memorable section contrasted this easy dissipating of movement, with one duet partner simultaneously offering accented, exhale-driven movement. 

Two other dancers soon joined them, yet the lack of overt interpersonal connection remained. In another moment of clear and sharp contrast, the two more recent dancers moved in a sharp and accented way while the two other dancers sat in stillness. Then, all of the sudden, they embraced: an unexpected and powerful moment of raw, honest human connection. 

The first two dancers soon exited, leading into a more fast-paced and frenetic section – with turmoil and even a fresh edginess. Turning, grounded deeply through their legs, they held one arm out while one hand touched their heart: opening to receiving, but also protecting what might be fragile. 

It all sped up, getting more athletic and tumultuous. Yet, at moments they settled into the floor and put a hand to the heart: reaching out but self-protecting. After a climactic moment in which this vigorous, turbulent movement peaked, they both fell to the ground, almost as if in exhaustion: their breath quickened and their release into the floor heavy. 

The piece progressed similarly from there – with different combinations of dancers creating varied sections, their entrances and exits like chapter markers (supported by shifts in lighting and in the score, as well). Through all of these sections, the ensemble displayed not only striking stamina and commitment to their performance, but a pleasing clarity of physical shaping and pathways of momentum even while keeping movement supple and continuous.

Later, lighting lowered – even offering dancers individual moments in a centerstage spotlight. It became more diffusely low, all throughout the stage space, as the piece progressed. That cohered, hand in glove, with the haunting instrumental score (by John Yannelli, Kiernan Robinson, Muriel Louveau and Kevin Keller). The internal, gestural, and even gut-driven movement joined both of those elements, all to create a chillingly ghostly atmosphere. 

Throughout it all, as the piece continued, small moments of connection did shine through: whether through physical contact, eye contact, meeting in unison movement, or simply close proximity. More so, however, I felt a solitude – even a loneliness – in how these four souls moved through the piece. 

Toward the end of the work, however, they did find more connection, even support of one another: foreheads leaning into another’s to support each other’s weight, holding under armpits to help another slowly lower to the ground. With that shift, as well as to softer tones in lighting and score, a new easefulness and harmony began to pervade the space – even if echoes of the ghostliness that had built still hung in the atmosphere. 

In that new air of connection, I felt a new assuredness – even a ferocity – in the presence of these moving souls. They had shifted to a place that allowed such connection, and then that ferocity could shine through. It begins with us. The work’s relishing in each moment – letting each moment take its time and allowing it to have its own life – also allowed all of that to blossom forth. 

Three of them watched one other dancing with this new presence, with witnessing perhaps acting as a form of support. The lights cut out in the midst of that – signaling a continuance. We can hope that such a more assured, connected, and mutually-supportive bearing can continue – but it’s not a one-and-done. It’s a process, as the saying goes. It’s continually healing, as Fellion‘s title goes. 

The second half of the program brought us Kristin Hatleberg’s Choreographed by Clouds. An interdisciplinary and thoughtful approach evinced a love of various sensory, aesthetic and energetic treasures – and invited audience members to share in that mindful, present-moment love. Throughout, Hatleberg danced in front of video of clouds, clouds of different visual and atmospheric qualities. Her movement was easeful, honest and internally resonant. 

Deepening the movement meditation at hand, she later found repeated movement vocabulary: easeful rippling through the spine and arms moving forward and back, turning while her arms turned with her overhead. This wasn’t a virtuosity of high leaps or endless turning – but rather one of unobstructed momentum, movement traveling through the body in a way that was fully aligned with its timeless wisdom.

Audio offered a poetic auditory layer, as well. To begin the work, this audio hinted at a practice of filming clouds, in various locations throughout the world and sharing the video with loved ones. I wondered if that was a formal creative practice. All of this put me in a headspace of creative generativity and the joy found in making something, of being immersed in that process no matter what the outcome may be.

Various descriptions in the audio also tickled my mind, as I continued to take in Hatleberg’s movement with great pleasure: how clouds often play “second actor” to the sun in our creative and visual inclinations, as it has for centuries; a memory of finding shapes in the clouds as a child, with childhood friends.

In this dive into childhood memory, the video rotated as she turned – with the score even offering notes with a sense of dipping and swooping, falling and rising, as if the notes themselves were also turning. This felt connected to the earlier retelling of another childhood discovery: that if you lie and watch the clouds, you might even feel the earth rotating – a fact of the natural world “that fascinated us at that age.” It made my heart yearn for the pure, uncomplicated curiosity and joy of discovery that we experience – without trying to – in childhood.

Bringing a tonal shift about halfway through the work, the voice changed and dark stormy clouds became the new aesthetic and energetic focus: the clouds that lead to snow, rain, wind. The memory at hand here, of storms seen in childhood, led to historical memory – of conquistadors and pioneers venturing across the “New World” (new to them, of course). The audio connected that to the present, the landscape now certainly being something quite different. 

Even so, Hatleberg continued moving with ease, honesty and thoughtfulness. Some things change, yet some things are timeless. Her keen musicality with the music of speech was also quite satisfying; she found the rise and fall in the timbers of a voice, the rhythm of punctuation and a sentence’s diction, in and through her core and limbs.

Sounds of windchimes and storms soon brought my mind to what we might sometimes see as the darker part of what clouds bring – and she rolled offstage for the lights to go down. The truth of the duality of all things – yin and yang, darkness and light – permeated. Also arising in my mind and soul was a reminder to not take for granted – to seek to discover, to take wonder in something as quotidian and mundane as a cloud – because it does have wonder to share, if we can stop long enough to see it. 

That is “living in the moment”: allowing ourselves to experience the beauty in every instant, a beauty that it’s all too easy to let pass us by. Body Stories: Teresa Fellion Dance’s and Kristin Hatleberg’s works in Take Root certainly reminded me that every moment has unique treasures. It also steeped each moment in rich sensory and kinetic treasures, building a layered dynamism. 

The program underscored that yes, we can indeed be mindful with dance – even if there’s more action and sensory input than we often associate with mindfulness and meditation. That only means that there’s more richness in each moment to appreciate! Even more meaningful, these works called us to stop, breathe, and re-connect with possibilities of the body and in the air right here, right now. I can think of few reminders more poignant and more vital.

By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.

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