Remember you have to die. A fitting nickname for choreographer Katie Vaught’s new work. The contemporary piece features landscapes of courage and pays homage to the struggle and anxiety that have remained a constant reminder of the pandemic. In this first performance, the company explores true stories of risk. Drawing inspiration from Gerald Durrell’s Corfu Trilogy – a testament to the strength of a mother moving her children to an island in Greece as they survive famine and more – Vaught depicts the abandonment of fear created jumping into the unknown.
Work began with a gentle marching tune, “Sun Will Set” from “One Cello X16: Natoma” by Zoë Keating and Zoe Clare Keating. As the three dancers walked through wide bands on stage, I immediately became aware of the journey the intrepid performers had to take. Sharp, sharp arms pierced the air, sweeping away their past lives and propelling them into the unknown. With a swell of music, the trio parted ways with each other and explored their own personal struggles. I was impressed with the control of movement, true to Graham’s technique. Vaught’s well-paced choreography never left room for my eye to wander.
…a perfect demonstration of Vaught’s provocative aesthetic…brimming with stellar technique, control, innovation and strength.
The sad first movement of Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 27 No. 2 – “Adagio Sostenuto” (“Moonlight Sonata)” – excerpt from Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3 by Paul Lewis brought soloist Zoë Brielle Payne into the spotlight. Trapped by the limits of light, she revealed an inner struggle and conveyed a sense of deep pain and longing. She is released by the entrance of the next dancer and they began to move together through a spellbinding phrase with bent elbows. Their bodies were fluid and yet I could tell every muscle was fully engaged. The use of breath as an exquisite emphasis on physical movement was a nice touch from Vaught and brought haptic force throughout the piece.
The story progressed with “Sad Seine” from Lambert’s “Lost Tapes” as the dancers leapt into the air, moving forward. Cleverly, Vaught incorporated classical ballet aesthetics into well-executed footwork and lifts. As the trio faced new struggles, the choreography reflected a darker mood. A strong heartbeat at the start of “Optimist” from Zoë Keating’s “Into the Trees” lit up perfect moments of stillness between the elegant contortions. The music seemed to inhabit the performers as if they had lost the ability to resist the rock and roll tempo and were beginning to find their joy and sensuality through their cores.
This was immediately followed by an electrifying jump accompanied by a well-timed lighting change that simply left me speechless. The choice of music, “Shadows” from “Shadows” by Bonobo and Jordan Rakei got me moving with the trio on stage from my seat. The fresh and innovative use of hips, core and arms was fun and funky, a perfect demonstration of Vaught’s provocative aesthetic.
“Falling Off a Horse” from Felix Laband’s “Dark Days Exit” used a unique sound of soda pop mixed with acoustic guitar that gave a playful edge to a stunning duet between Payne and Destiny Arlette Cooke. Their bond was clearly evident, never quite losing touch with each other. I saw the inspiration for the piece here, a bond between mother and child that forms as the child becomes stronger and more adventurous. Cooke was then joined for a second duet with Melissa Lloyd, embodying a sense of continuous play but with looser and more open movements accompanied by the adventurous “Ethio Invention No.1” from “I Want to See Pulaski at Night” by Andrew Bird. I interpreted this as two children, opening up to the world around them, falling down and exploring together without giving up. It was woven effortlessly with the evening’s closing lines on Julia Kent’s “Delay” “Dorval” with the full trio. Vaught neatly ended the story by recalling past tableaus in a reimagined state, imbuing the final moments with nostalgia for the journey and a sense of hope for the future. The conclusion was overt memento mori, remembering that you must die, but reminding us that we must live first.
The Vaught Contemporary Ballet Company should be proud of the work it has created, brimming with stellar technique, control, innovation and force. If I had to claim an adjustment, it would be that while everyone’s sense of character was sharpened, the relationships between the three performers had remained unclear to me until halfway through. There was a costume change from the photo above, which was helpful in decluttering the performers’ form, but could have been an opportunity to educate the audience about these relationships. However, perhaps it was intentional to blur those lines and even out the struggle for each individual as they let go of their fear and take on the challenge of uncertainty.
“Memento Mori: Runs through Sunday, April 10, 2022 at the Baltimore Theater Project 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. 50% of proceeds from Vaught Contemporary Ballet Sunday ticket sales will benefit the Baltimore Abortion Fund, an organization nonprofit that supports people living in or traveling to Maryland for abortion care. To learn more about their work, go here.
To purchase tickets and get more information, click here or call the box office at 410-752-8558. All customers must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Please bring proof of vaccination (either the original vaccination card or a photo of the card) as well as a valid ID. All guests must wear masks inside the Theater Project.