What would you do in the case of a terrorist attack, a mass shooting, or some horrible violent situation that we read about all too often in the news? Would your humanity be revealed in that moment? How would you react, and how would you say goodbye?
These are questions that loom over a new piece called “AfterWind,” created by Off-Leash Area: Contemporary Performance Works, and it couldn’t come at a more poignant time, what with the recent horrors in Orlando, Dallas, Nice, and other parts of the world. The dance and visual installation piece meditates on the experience of facing imminent mortality for our collective subconscious.
While the idea for the show initially came from Off-Leash Area’s co-director Paul Herwig, his wife and co-director Jennifer Ilse says she really attached personally to the subject matter and ended up taking on more of a lead role in the project. “I have a lot of close family members that have died in last few years,” she says, including her father and both of her brothers. “Death is just really present for me right now. I kind of feel like I’m 80.”
Ilse’s father and one of her brothers spent the last moments of their lives surrounded by family and friends, in their own homes. But her other brother, who had schizophrenia, wasn’t found until days after he died. Like that brother, people who die violent deaths are denied the opportunity to say goodbye, she says.
Ilse’s research was initially based on looking at phone calls made during the September 11 attacks, from the people who were caught in the towers. What struck her most was the incredible amount of empathy people exhibited, even amidst incredibly intense circumstances, with fire raging and the building falling down around them. “We can’t even fathom how they would still find someone else that seemed in a worse place than themselves,” she says.
While the show contains some broad statements about the political discourse around violence, Ilse says she really tried to dig into the subconscious for the piece, and mine humanity’s fear of its own mortality.
The show is the least narrative work the company has put together, Ilse says, though there is an arc that guides the piece, beginning with an explosion at the beginning and following its aftermath. Performed in the round, the piece has a spectacle feel, as audience watch not only the performers but the other audience members as well.
Stylistically, Ilse employs dance that has a contemporary and modern influence, with a good deal of inversion work incorporated into the movement. “It’s about creating space with a different relationship to gravity,” she says. The movers do a lot of floor work in the piece, and use the walls for support as well, in order “to create the surreal world of dying.”
The set is an installation by Paul Herwig, who draws inspiration from artist Mark Manders and his use of objects like office furniture as well as clay figures of animals and human parts. “He arranges them in very simple sculptural images that seem really strong and weird to us,” says Ilse. She adds that Herwig uses props to build miniature installations that are placed throughout the audience.
Both Ilse and Herwig perform in the piece, along with dancers Kaori Kenmotsu, Jesse Neumann-Peterson, and Darrius Strong, with an original music composition by Craig Harris.
Savage Umbrella’s SPACE
550 Vandalia St, 3rd Floor Studio 306, St. Paul
8 p.m., Thursday-Sunday
Suggested donation of $10-30, tickets $8 with Fringe button on Thursdays and Sundays.
612-724-7372, Tickets online here