Movement is magic in "Singing Over the Bones"

Review: "Singing Over the Bones," choreographed by Lucie Baker

University of Washington MFA Dance Concert

May 17th, 2019

Over the sound of a trickling stream and birdsong, a single downstage left spotlight beams on, revealing a dancer curled on the stage, pressing her hand in a gesture into the floor. A single moth flutters into the spotlight over her head, circling upwards towards the lighting rig above—and I have to blink to be sure what I see is real. Lucie Baker’s Singing Over the Bones begins in this idyll, this faerie circle, this mermaid’s grotto.

The soloist pulls her hand along the floor towards herself and up along her body as if it were pulling away from her in equal force, releasing the tension as she melts back into the floor. It’s like peeking between bushes into another world, and as she repeats the cycle and the lights illuminate more dancers joining her onstage, we are swept away into it, this push and pull becoming a constant tide throughout the dance.

The dancers’ outer layers of pedestrian clothing melt away, almost as if an illusion, to reveal soft, natural-looking jumpsuits the color of rose petals, crowns of leaves woven through their hair. The visual environment combines with the sound score, which shifts from the water and bird sounds into selections from The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between Worlds by Kitka, signaling a natural atmosphere imbued with magic. The shifting shape of the six dancers’ relationships called to my mind the very real ways communities form and live, caring for their own, confronting their transgressions, holding the line, and celebrating as one.

Photo by Warren Woo.

Onstage, playfulness and joy ebb into burning defiance and back again. The dancers form a chain and dance in a circle reminiscent of a folk dance, calling to mind simplicity and nature, but it morphs into something else with the aura of a powerful spell being cast. There is power in this kind of emotional agility. At times they face inwards, towards each other, not heeding you out in the audience. Suddenly they turn with burning eyes to look at you, their stillness eerie and potent. At the same time, their hands shake and twitch, their arms shielding a tucked head from some danger or threat, signaling a deep vulnerability as well. The intensity and the range of their emotions makes me long to belong among them.

There is magic in the invisible ties that hold the dancers to each other, maintaining their cohesion even when they are not dancing together. At one point, they pull together to embrace one of their own, then scatter apart, grouping and regrouping around each dancer in turn. Two dancers duet fiercely, pushing and pulling away from each other in disagreement; their argument ends in an embrace. This is emotional enchantment; it grabs me by the heart. Who do we love so unconditionally that we would embrace them this way even in a fight? Who do we fight with so ferociously because we love them unconditionally?

The title, Singing Over the Bones, is beautiful, haunting, and ambiguous. “Singing” evokes a voice making itself heard. In the swells of the music, multiple singers ease in and out of unison, into harmony, into wildly different melodies. The dancers keep pace with the music, dancing together in a line or circle, stepping forward and backward in rhythm, as one or several pry themselves out of the pack to express a singular melody that, momentarily, soars or cries above the others. This polyvocality weaves the dancers together, rather than creating discord; their movement sings with one voice and also with six voices, without paradox.

But whose bones? The program notes mention Rusalki of Slavic folklore, describing spirits of young women who died untimely deaths. Perhaps these six dancers embody the act of self-remembrance, singing over their own bones, tracing over their truths, restoring the richness of their lives to memory.


©2019 Johanna Berliner