Hot off the heels of her gallery installation at All My Relations Gallery, which has been extended through July 13, Rosy Simas takes the full production of We Wait in Darkness to the Red Eye Theater this week. A meditation on her family history, in particular the story of her Seneca grandmother, Simas's introspective piece probes the shameful history of the U.S.'s treatment of her family's tribe, and the repercussions of that history on future generations. This is done through following the journeys of women both past and present striving to work through trauma.
The piece starts out with an absolutely gorgeous segment, where Simas sits near the center of the stage with her back toward the audience. Only dressed in underwear, Simas proceeds to perform the most captivating solo where her sinewy spine and rib cage move expressively and articulately. The sound accompanying this movement, created by composer Francois Richomme, begins with nature sounds. The sounds increase in intensity, as it often does throughout the work, eventually escalating to a level that is industrial and jarring. It's a fascinating depiction of the anguish a woman senses deep inside her.
Eventually, Simas moves out of her stasis position and goes back in time, donning a white prairie dress that signifies her journey into the past. Supplementing her movements are large-screen projections stage right, and several smaller screens stage left, where video is split onto the different panels. Archival photographs, video of nature, and Simas dancing populate the video portion of the piece, often with Simas's shadow juxtaposed onto the screen as she moves through the memories of her ancestors.
One of the loveliest elements of the show is when Laura Waterman Wittstock reads aloud letters written by Simas's grandmother, Clarinda Jackson Waterman. These are letters written to Wittsock, but they mention Simas when she was a child. In the first letter, featured at the beginning of the show, Waterman talks about holding onto her identity as a Seneca, and describing how she will always be a Seneca woman, no matter how she dresses or what language she speaks. In the second letter, Clarinda recalls how she was a joker when she was a little girl, and encourages Wittstock to allow Simas to get away with her little tricks every once in a while.
The letters are filled with such humor and wisdom, you get a clear picture of what this woman was really like. It also adds a very accessible humanness to the piece as a whole.
For the climax, Simas brings out a map of Seneca lands, which she tears into pieces and spreads across the stage, eventually handing out sections to the audience. It's the one part of the show that is done without Richomme's swelling composition, which adds to the jarring nature of this section. Simas also isn't really dancing when she tears the pieces. It's a performance that's done directly in an almost pedestrian way, marking a stark contrast with everything else onstage.
For the rest of the piece, the choreography is very gestural, with strong, muscular movements often performed in silhouette or shadowy light, as designed by Karin Olson. At times, Simas searches inward and then opens up her arms and chest, allowing her body to face trauma that surrounds her as she digs into her family's history. Sometimes she even picks at her veins, as if searching for the DNA that swarms in her bloodstream. It's emotional work, but Simas's performance maintains a distance from the emotion. We see it hovering beneath the surface, beating heavily underneath her skin, but never overtaking her.
IF YOU GO:
We Wait in Darkness 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday $12-$16; Saturday's early show is pay-as-able Red Eye Theater