Emotional Properties

Feeling faint: Maria the Stormcloud by Seattle's 33 Fainting Spells

All the world's a stage, the old saw goes, but that doesn't necessarily mean you can perform anywhere you want. Gaelen Hanson and Dayna Hanson (no relation) of the Seattle dance theater group 33 Fainting Spells discovered this fact while creating their 1996 work The Uninvited in Gaelen's living room. Requiring a platform, the duo climbed on top of the kitchen table. If etiquette would have us keep our elbows off the serving area, crashing feet are another matter altogether. "It was my boyfriend's grandmother's table," Gaelen recalls, "and I wasn't supposed to be dancing on it." Eventually, a replica was made and the work opened to wide acclaim. But it's clear that the women of 33 Fainting Spells, appearing this weekend in the Walker Art Center's continuing Out There series at the Southern Theater, refuse to surrender their active imaginations and bodies to the mundane limitations of household furniture.

Founded in 1994 by the Hanson duo, 33 Fainting Spells borrows its decidedly unconventional name from a play by Russian director Vsevolod Meyerhold, which keeps a running tally of how often a character faints, or speaks of fainting, in Chekhov's short stories. Meyerhold "believed that human relationships and behavior are best expressed through gestures, steps and attitudes, poses" explains Gaelen by phone from Seattle. "He created a real physical approach to acting. We were inspired by his writings."

Merging Gaelen's training in dance and theater with Dayna's background in literature, the two women created a fresh interdisciplinary approach informed by modern technique, Meyerhold's legacy, and a distinct European aesthetic echoing Pina Bausch and Anne Theresa de Keersmaeker. Peggy Piacenza joined the Hansons in 1996, and the trio has since moved to the fore of the Seattle dance scene, which has been growing and diversifying in recent years like the burgeoning scene in the Twin Cities.

33 Fainting Spells will perform their most recent effort, Maria the Stormcloud in Out There, and once again ordinary objects will take on extraordinary possibilities. Look for cocktail glasses, swiveling stools, and even "Hi, my name is..." labels to assume prominent roles as Hanson, Hanson, and Piacenza sport chunky black shoes and fashionable clothes. With these elements as a backdrop, the dancers tackle their rough-and-tumble movement style with both acrobatic exuberance and spot-on accuracy. "We do a rigorous study of the object we're working with, and we sometimes even treat it as a character on its own," says Gaelen, referring to the troupe's intense improvisation-based rehearsal process. "The prop embodies some kind of mood, or we give it emotional properties. We like the fact that using regular objects found in a lot of people's homes puts us in the real world while at the same time we're on the stage."

Much of Maria the Stormcloud provides a feminist commentary on women's images and icons, but the work is far from a dry political discourse. Leave it to the gals of 33 Fainting Spells to go-go dance, vamp, and catfight their way across the stage like a trio of frustrated Holly Golightlys while ultimately making a complex statement on the limitations of communication. According to Gaelen, the performers "studied the awkwardness behind speech. It looks sort of adolescent in a way, but it's meant to be a universal issue--trying to find the right thing to say or how to say it."


33 Fainting Spells' Maria the Stormcloud runs Thursday through Saturday at the Southern Theater; (612) 375-7622.

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