Sister, my sister

A dance both disconcerting and dangerous.

DRIVING HOME FRIDAY night after seeing 33 Fainting Spells' revival of Sorrow's Sister was a bit disconcerting—images from the dance, set in wartime, mixed with the boarded-up windows left from the ruckus of the WTO demonstrations. The world created inside the theater was of a time and place far more disturbed than this one, but the two are certainly related.

33 Fainting Spells

On the Boards

December 2-4

The three women in Sorrow's Sister have already survived some unarticulated tragedies; they are living in a shelter or some other war-damaged household. Their lives—as disrupted as their home—are reflected in movement that constantly turns in on itself. Much of the actual dancing is played very close to the body in spasmodic versions of everyday behaviors, coughing or shifting from foot to foot. When they break out from this restriction it feels manic, almost dangerous. One of the most evocative sections of the work takes place during an air raid in almost total stillness, with one of them tearing pages off a calendar to imply the passage of time while the others sit cautiously.

Throughout the work, the women try to lead a semblance of normal lives—cooking, tidying up, celebrating a birthday—but each of these activities is subtly off. There is never quite enough of anything: two party hats to divide between the three of them, a birthday gift of a single roller skate that turns the recipient into a kind of temporary cripple. When one of them ventures outside and returns with three potatoes, it seems that for once there might be enough to go around, and they launch into a celebratory dance, caressing the vegetables, juggling them, weighing them in their hands until they finally slice them up into a kettle. But when the potatoes turn out to be rotten, that sends another one racing out the door, this time with tragic results. She returns bleeding and shaken, and the balance of the work is taken up with trying to nurse her.

At this point it becomes apparent that these women are all a bit skewed. One of them examines the victim's head carefully and tenderly, then lets it drop haphazardly onto the pillow, while the other does the same thing to her foot. Alternately gentle and brusque, they don't seem to always remember who they're tending. The patient has spasms of manic behavior, drumming her feet on the ground or flinging herself onto the mattress, bouncing on the bed covered in a sheet like a gymnastic ghost. It's very clear that not all their wounds are physical. After she dies, and the remaining women leave with their tiny suitcases, we're not sure they have any more chance of surviving than she did.

Choreographers and co-directors Dayna and Gaelen Hanson, along with their colleague Peggy Piacenza, will be performing the work at the Joyce Theater in New York City in February 2000. Even without the unintentional reinforcement of the local atmosphere, Sorrow's Sister evokes some disturbing images that may not be just historical.

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