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Stepping out to a rhythm that's new and yet familiar
Special to The Seattle Times
As a pair of musicians jam in one corner of the stage and three dancers intently practice steps, a man puts a bag of popcorn into a microwave oven. The smell and sound of the popcorn cooking crescendoes with the music. By the time the popcorn bag is swelled and ready to open, all the performers have stopped what they are doing to stare at it. It is a quirky moment in a preview of Dayna Hanson's "We Never Like Talking About the End" which opens at On the Boards Thursday.
This little scene contains many of the elements of Hanson's previous work with Gaelen Hanson, with whom she co-founded the acclaimed dance-theater troupe 33 Fainting Spells. On one level, the popcorn moment is just part of a convincingly casual gathering of a group of friends, and on another it is a structured beat in a piece constructed like music. References and dialogue are heavily layered: When a character is referred to as "late" it could mean tardy, but it might mean dead.
All this is familiar to fans of 33 Fainting Spells' film and stage work. But "We Never Like Talking About the End" is also a departure for Hanson, because it's the first full-length work she'll debut at OtB since her partnership with Gaelen Hanson dissolved earlier this year.
The morning after this preview performance, Hanson sits in the corner of a quiet Capitol Hill coffee shop. While she sips tea, she describes what it's like to be in charge, the sole director, after 12 years of close collaboration in her work for 33 Fainting Spells. "It feels almost decadent," she said.
The luxury of making choices and then having them incorporated directly into the work by the performers still takes Hanson by surprise. "It's so direct. I can say, start the music here, put the popcorn in here, take it out here, this timing should work out. Then we move on." This efficiency has shortened her rehearsal process.
Where 33 Fainting Spells would work on a new evening-length piece for an average of two years, Hanson has been rehearsing "End" for just three months. "If you think about choreographing even a two-minute dance where every single beat has to be agreed on in a collaborative way and then multiplying that by all minutes in all the projects, there's a thrill in just saying, 'Here's some movement and no one has to approve it.' I fell in love all over again with dancing and with choreography," Hanson said.
Hanson has internalized the questioning process inherent in collaboration and has learned to trust her own decisions. "I'm bringing so many skills I didn't even have before," she said.
"We Never Like Talking About the End," 8 p.m. Nov. 30-Dec. 2, On the Boards, 100 W. Roy Street, Seattle; $18 (206-217-9888 or www.ontheboards.org).
The solitary aspect of being in charge is, in some ways, a return to Hanson's first career as a writer. (She was a recipient of the Loren D. Milliman Scholarship for short fiction.) Writing, directing and producing films have increasingly become Hanson's focus. Her solo show, "Spirit Under the Influence," at Northwest Film Forum included footage of her parents and her children and featured the quest for an alternative fuel. Hanson recently produced Linas Phillips' "Walking to Werner," which won a Seattle International Film Festival award. A film of her own, "The Woman, the Kid, and the Guy," is in the works for next year.
Rehearsals for the OtB premiere, though, have reminded Hanson how much she loves live performance. "There's something so pure and immediate about it," she said. And she's excited by the artists with whom she's working. They include Dave Proscia, a lighting designer, who wrote and will perform original music for the piece; 16-year-old-musician Maggie Brown; and dancers Ezra Dickinson, Wade Madsen and Marissa Niederhauser. Hanson's father, Vern Hanson, is also performing. Etta Lilienthal has created the visual design. "I love seeing people whom you know in one capacity work in a different form. I also really love the age range of these performers on stage."
Hanson has found herself fascinated by the stories of people who have experienced near death and this interest provides one of the themes of "End." Although sometimes people give her confused looks when she describes this interest, she says it is just part of the artistic process.
"Who would have thought that my obsession years ago with a Chekhov short story [the source of the name for 33 Fainting Spells] would have ended up leading where it did?" Learning to follow in her art where her fascinations lead is all part of being in charge for Hanson.
Mary Bayley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company