By Joe Nalven
What better way to restart the new year than to visit with Jean Isaacs Dance Theater. The performances are always delightful and create a sense of wonder in how she combines literary themes with modern dance.
The first of two dance sets is based on Marguerite Duras’ radio play, “The Atlantic Man.” It was first presented at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido in 2003 and now is being re-staged at the Mandell Weiss Theatre on the UC San Diego campus.
Jean Isaacs’ choreography weaves the dance movements around the notions of love and loss. As she explained it:
“The Atlantic Man’s central theme is how absence of a loved one is made more painful by knowing they were here and knowing that the moment will pass. “The Atlantic Man” metaphor is visualized as the birds he has seen at the beginning of the dance. Of course, taking the imagery and the play’s text and how it is choreographed as dance oversimplifies the performance and might even take away some of its magic. Much better to see the performance.”
One gets a sense of how this magic works by how the dance unfolds for one of the dancers. Erica Nordin danced in the first staging of the play in 2003:
“There is a lot of bird imagery used in Atlantic Man, and there are moments when we move as a flock onstage or channel a birdlike quality to get Jean’s direction across. We were given the idea of fullness versus emptiness. You can see this when one partner moves away from another and the one left behind somehow registers the emptiness energetically in their body. Personally, I look for a somewhat intense or intimate connection with my fellow dancers, to the beauty and tone of the music, and to the text of the piece. I allow it to be its own world and experience from start to finish each time.”
The second part of the program is “Pillow: Case.” The series of dance vignettes looks at love with cheeky mindfulness. You will laugh and you will smile. It is a world premiere using Meagan Marshall’s narrative. The key props in these dances are old pillow cases. They carry the memories of those who’ve slept on them.
Ariana Siegel provides the following insight: “The piece uses seemingly mundane objects — worn out relics, pillow cases — to meaningfully link people, experiences, and time. As a dancer, I open the linen closet door and blow dust off certain pillow cases. I slip down a nonlinear memory lane, meeting old ghosts, breathing life into them, and letting them dance together.”
Nordin dances in the Pillow: Case as well: “Bringing about Jean’s ideas in some of the lighter pieces involves an aspect of physical comedy. I have to let go of any insecurities about looking the fool onstage. You really have to make where you’re coming from seem authentic to get the laugh across.”
Jean Isaacs is one of San Diego’s cultural treasures. Think about it. Go see the “Dances of Love, Laughter & Loss.”
- “Dances of Love, Laughter & Loss” at the Mandell Weiss Theatre at 2910 La Jolla Village Dr. on the UC San Diego campus
- Performances Friday and Saturday, Jan. 16-17, at at 8 p.m., and Sunday, Jan. 18, at 2 p.m.
- Tickets are available online at sddtlovelaughterloss.brownpapertickets.com.
Joe Nalven is a San Diego-based digital artist.
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