Wishing with Katharine Hawthorne

Photo by Mike Machian

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One of my yoga teachers says that the body is the past, the mind the future, and the breath the present. I say (though I may have forgotten who I’m quoting) that the body is a metaphor for the experience of the body. Watching dancer/choreographer Katharine Hawthorne rehearse Between the Wish and the Thing made me think of these ideas.

Hawthorne is a very thoughtful and thought-provoking performer. In her piece Mainframe she touched on questions of physicality in the digital age, in part by dancing around and with the chunky computers of our recent past — those fifty pounders who may strike us as the clumsy forbears of our current pocket-weights. While conversing with Syri, the dancers in Mainframe reflected some of the absurdity of seeking solace in algorithms. Hawthorne tells me that Between the Wish and the Thing arose in part from a question that made some of the performers in Mainframe uncomfortable.

“I asked them if the future will be good, and they did not want to answer that question on stage.” Hawthorne says that this made her want to explore the gap between our hope for (and perhaps fear of) the future and what might actually occur. What is the future, really, but our idea of it?

Using the body to free the mind from prognosticating, Hawthorne built Between the Wish and the Thing around improvisation. By moving away from determining the choreography more explicitly, she invited her collaborators, Elizabeth Chitty and John Chandler Hawthorne, to release expectation and work more fully in the present moment.

Choreographer Hope Mohr, one of Hawthorne’s mentors, was also at the rehearsal, and I had the good fortune to hear some of the feedback that she shared with Hawthorne. She gave voice to something that struck me as well — the sense that Hawthorne and Chitty had clearly built a relationship of trust. Their duet was unforced and organic, and we were watching it refine itself. Mohr noted the fine measure of their weight-sharing, which is, in effect, the embodiment of trust. Allowing your body to by turns support and be supported requires fortitude, a constancy in the face of contingency.

Hawthorne and Mohr talked shop, exploring critical questions about transitions, about how Hawthorne will move the audience, both figuratively and literally. Calling herself the Puck of the piece, Hawthorne explained how she’ll guide the audience to participate. She’ll violate the fourth wall by, among other things, asking the audience to write a wish on a piece of paper and then blindly selecting one wish to dance. After performing previous iterations of Between the Wish and the Thing in parks and in freight elevators, Hawthorne says, the black box theater presents a new set of questions about how to free the audience of their own expectations.

And speaking of expectations, will the future be good? In the moment of he-who-shall-not-be-named and climate change, I often find it hard to overcome a sense of dystopian menace. Hawthorne and her collaborators address some of the anxieties that nag many of us in what she calls the sci-fi section of the piece. As it happens, this section is the only part that was completely set, and it is the most explicitly language-driven part. Speaking words of hope “cure for cancer” and fear “nuclear war” the performers will acknowledge some of the contradictions of our technology-mad society.

Perhaps the body is a metaphor for the experience of the body. It is the location of every pressure that has ever acted upon us. A dance conceived as an open-ended inquiry is an invitation to view the contours of the metaphor — movement reveals the mover, the source manifests as symbol, which in turn shapes the expression of the source. Forgive me, Hawthorne’s thoughtful work inspires many thoughts.

And hey, I hear that fortune cookies, Buster Keaton, and actual musical instruments will also be in play.  Bring your wishes and leave your assumptions behind.

Between the Wish and the Thing
November 16-18, 2017
ODC Theater

Tickets $25 general admission, advance reservation recommended at odc.dance/tickets