Joanna Read, founder and artistic director of Same Planet Performance Project, says the company’s return to the stage was a gradual process. After a yearlong pandemic hiatus, Same Planet returns to its home base at Dovetail Studios to start from scratch in many ways. “There was so much to say, and yet we weren’t sure what we wanted to say. So much was going on that couldn’t necessarily be verbalized,” Read tells me. She says what emerged in the studio was explorations of frustration, brattiness, punk sensibilities. “We had a lot of ‘fuck yous,’ but you still have to go through your day.” An iteration of the emerging dance was performed at architecturally distinct SITE/less, then mostly reworked for the black box space at Dovetail.
The resultant piece, “Things Hidden and Left Unsaid,” which plays January 12-15, is a deft expression of the complex emotional stew particular to this moment but also endemic to the human condition. Over the course of an hour, Patrick Burns, Chloe Michels, Enid Smith and Juli Farley cycle through phases of labor, exhaustion, mutual care, missed connections. Like ocean waves, the moods in “Things Hidden” are in constant flux, a shifting kaleidoscope of ideas that remain stuck on the tip of the tongue. And like ocean waves, images and emotions return again and again in slightly different, but recognizable forms. There is an unceasing rhythm to this change and the piece offers a strange comfort in that idea.
The rhythm is set in the opening moments of the dance. Burns stands bent forward, feet spread wide, and pumps his right fist downward—his fringe of hair swinging with the fringe on his sleeves—what seems like a couple hundred times. Behind, Farley stands upright, gradually raising her widespread arms skyward—together they are like a second and hour hand on the same industrio-geologic clock. Time is also marked by rhythmic, convulsive exhalations, by broad, stomping strides: some of those punk, fuck-you physicalities Read mentioned.
There are moments of tenderness, too: Dancers placing a hand to another’s heart or supporting each other as they try to find release. But both release and connection remain just out of reach despite repeated effort to find them—release through stomps or runs or feet dropped heavily to the floor or collapsing, prone, on the Marley; connection through touch, mimicked movements or looks that travel past, but never directly at, one another.
Read is a disciplined craftsperson of the abstract, constantly refining the balance between challenging an audience and bringing them along. This allows her to play with toys that in the hands of another choreographer could look self-indulgent or disjointed. Near the end of “Things Hidden,” Farley leaves the stage for a few minutes and the remaining trio becomes involved in small hand movements that don’t appear elsewhere the dance. At the time, I thought, “What’s up with the hand stuff?” yet at no point did I feel distrust of what was happening. It made me curious. In retrospect I realize the contrasting section performed, for me as a viewer, the same function as a bridge in a good pop tune.
These little revelations, which bloom in the back of the mind the way the meaning of a dream takes shape the hour after waking, are one of the quiet pleasures of watching Read’s work. They can only be accessed in the realm of the unsaid.
“Things Hidden and Left Unsaid” at Dovetail Studios, 2853 West Montrose. January 12-15, Thursday & Friday at 7pm, Saturday at 5pm & 7pm, Sunday at 5pm, $25. Tickets at Eventbrite.com.