THEY'RE DOING it again. 33 Fainting Spells' newest production September, September is another chapter in the ongoing life of this dance-theater company and another layer of development in their work. Codirectors Galen and Dayna Hanson, along with coperformers Peggy Piacenza and John Dixon, have created a densely textured evening full of specificity and non sequitur, a style that for them has become a hallmark.
33 Fainting Spells
November 10-11 at Moore Theater
As with earlier dances, narrative threads emerge and retreat, sometimes reinforcing each other and other times offering different interpretations of events. On the surface, September, September might be an end-of-summer reverie for a quartet of friends. They chat and quibble, cook and eat, play cards and read letters, in myriad little scenes full of realistic detail. This naturalism is undercut by moments verging on the surreal, challenging whatever we think we've learned about these people and subverting the interpretations we've created. When Dixon wears a giant horse's head to dinner, reminiscent of Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream, is he just a guy with odd taste in hats, or is he the memory of a summer outing? Is Galen Hanson actually on a crying jag, or is it some elaborate parlor game? Often, it seems the answer is yes and yes.
THEMES OF MEMORY and nostalgia run through the work, connected to the autumn setting and the techniques that the Hansons use to generate their material. "Nostalgia," says Dayna Hanson, "is a machine that kicks in . . . a certain scent, smell, color, light . . . that triggers memories." September, September may tell a story, but it is often one that remains elusive to the viewer, according to Hanson: "Can we define a story [as] a woman eats a lemon and gets a huge flood of memories that we don't know about?" The group uses these specific images to create larger sequences and themes. "These kernels [are] still very visible in the piece. The idea of someone eating a lemon and experiencing the mechanical, causal reaction . . . what happens to your face, what happens to your expression, so closely resembling a grimace of anguish," she elaborates.
With each new work, the Hansons have added more material to their palette, specifically more people and more things. Here, as a quartet for the first time, the structural aspect of the choreography is enhanced. We see the permutations of two plus two, or one against three, with movement themes repeating and modulating. 33 Fainting Spells has always demonstrated a sophisticated mastery of emotional imagery, but with a larger cast it's easier to see the bones of the choreography.
Along with this development, though, their penchant for "stuff" is unchanged. At one point during a rehearsal, Dayna Hanson remarked that they were in danger of "being attacked by our own props." A long list of collaborators for this work includes composers Kyle Hanson and Joseph Zajonc, scenic designer Etta Lilienthal, and visual artist Anne Siems. Their contributions add more texture to the evocative worlds that the choreographers and dancers create in their work, giving us a new view into those different landscapes.