A process that began with routine thematic explorations evolved into poignant commentaries on our global community.
Both are accomplished choreographers. Piacenza is a collaborator with 33 Fainting Spells, founding member of D-9 Dance Collective and former member of Pat Graney Company. Lockyer is director of VIA, former principal dancer of Paula Josa-Jones/Performance Works and a recipient of commissions nationally and internationally.
And both women debuted portions of their work at last year’s Northwest New Works festival at On the Boards.
After the festival the two choreographers continued to grow their pieces and eventually pooled resources for a full-length production. From that point on their relationship became one of mutual support and encouragement. Although artistically they remained independent, the end result, premiering at On the Boards Feb. 22-24, displays a synchronicity that could not have been mapped out better.
Piacenza introduces the evening with her signature dance-theater style in “For Whom Am I,” an introspective exploration of western culture that probes the effects of an existence based solely on seeing and being seen.
Her work consistently deals with human behavior and motivation, this time focusing on how, if at all, we can uncover our true selves. The piece analyzes how western society prompts individuals to present themselves as if always on stage – framing events, emotions and ideas in support of their facade.
By blurring the line between performer and audience, Piacenza hopes to more profoundly affect the viewer’s experience. Piacenza’s blend of athletic movement and compelling theatrics combined with the lush sounds of composer Fred Firth and illusory images of animator Kristin Varner draws the audience into a hallucinatory setting in which the boundaries between the real and imagined are indecipherable.
Tonya Lockyer and her company, VIA, extend Piacenza’s investigation beyond ourselves. The group’s collaborative piece, “Borderland,” examines the dynamics between us and everyone else: our unconscious projections, our acceptance or denial of differences and, ultimately, our ability to see others for who they truly are.
“Borderland” was born from a discussion among VIA members about the link between east and west. Lockyer’s realization that she knew very little about the Middle East – other than the fact that the very subject generated inexplicable fear – prompted her to further delve into the meaning and implications of being a foreigner.
In developing “Borderland,” the performers discovered they share a common bond of searching for home – one is the child of forced immigrants, another a refugee and yet another in exile. They soon realized that feeling alien in one’s environment is not limited to their own lives but is a universal human experience: To a student just out of college or a Russian immigrant in search of a better life, the quest is essentially the same.
A year and a half after beginning the process that culminated in “Borderland,” Lockyer reflects on the influence of current events. Although the piece is not specifically about the circumstances surrounding Sept. 11, Lockyer says that subsequently “the piece got sadder; it got darker.” In a chilling moment in “Borderland” a voice asks, “Have you ever hated anyone?”
Both artists consciously strive to evoke rather than dictate feelings through their work, acknowledging that the viewers’ interpretation is unavoidably connected to their personal histories.
By the end of the evening, however, the message is clear. “Borderland” reminds us that our next-door neighbor can be as foreign to us as a neighbor in another country and even as foreign, as illustrated earlier by Piacenza, as we are to ourselves.
“Everyone is a foreign country,” Lockyer concludes, “and they must be entered and visited across invisible boundaries.”
Peggy Piacenza’s “For Whom Am I” and VIA/Tonya Lockyer’s “Borderland” will be performed at On the Boards Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance, 100 W. Roy St., from Feb. 22-24 at 8 p.m.