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The Pat Graney Company -- the Vivian girls

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#1 Helene



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Posted 01 February 2004 - 02:22 PM

I saw the Pat Graney Company perform the Vivian girls last night. The basis of the piece is artist Henry Darger's watercolor illustrations/murals depicting the 15000+ page fiction, The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, that was discovered on Darger's death.

According to a friend who attended a seminar about the creation of the work, choregrapher Pat Graney did not read the work, and her intention was not to tell the story as written by Darger, although composer Amy Denio did read at least most of Darger's prose. In her own words (from the program)

Rather than dwell on the eerily eccentric life of Mr. Darger himself, I was drawn to create the Vivian girls as real characters wandering through Darger's landscape of beauty, horror and destruction.  They move towards the reality of becoming real girls - making the journey from paper to flesh.

I usually cringe when I see an "Artist's Statement" in a program, but Graney's was direct, and, for a change, I could tell whether what I saw on stage had any resemblance to the artist's intention. From what I saw last night, she did, although I don't think her vision is completely successful yet. the Vivian girls is a rather static piece. When the girls become more "real" at the end and more consistently lively, the movement didn't hold my attention the way the tension-filled poses, slo-mo shapes, and slow adagio-like movements with short burst of movement that reflected/reflected upon the projected Darger watercolors in the background. I found the end of the piece a bit disappointing. I'm not sure if it was because the shift to more animated movement was jarring compared to the slower dancing, if it was due to an unmotivated transition, or if it simply wasn't interesting movement.

What I found fascinating was the use of pointe work -- a single piece for a a girl with butterfly wings in the first act -- and three butterflies on pointe throughout much of the second act. It was done almost entirely in sixth position, and all three women had excellent control over their feet. There wasn't a bobble in sight throughout. One of the dancers did an exit where she crouched on pointe, and in that crouched position walked off the set on pointe. I later found that she learned to dance on pointe for this part.

This piece is intended to evolve as it tours nationally; I'm hoping part two is more unified by the end of tour. Graney planning to bring it back to Seattle at the end of the tour, and I'm planning to see how the piece concludes then.

#2 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 01 February 2004 - 08:45 PM

Parenthetically, you can see at least portions of The Vivian Girls and Henry Darger's other work at the Museum of Folk Art in NY right opposite Donnell Library and next to MOMA (when it reopens!)

The wrok is strange and beautiful, from a poetic and I think also troubled mind. Worth a visit if you come to NYC.

#3 sandik


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Posted 03 February 2004 - 11:08 PM

I saw this show Friday evening and was very impressed with the work. I've seen most of Graney's choreography, and as time has passed she has become more and more intrigued with visual art, working almost as a collagist as she assembles movement themes and phrases. Her standard working process is very long for dance, usually at least a couple years, and the performers have a significant amount of input on the show. She's something of a one-off -- there really are very few people whose work looks like hers, and she certainly doesn't think of herself as being part of an artistic lineage.

Usually she significantly alters the original visuals, sometimes to the point that you aren't really sure what they are, but in this case the source material is almost completely intact. The Darger images are seriously odd -- beautiful, innocent and creepy. I agree that the opening half hangs together better than the second, but I love the women on pointe in part 2. For those of you who know Darger, they're based on the Blangens, menacing aliens who threaten the Vivien Girls, and the use of pointwork here is stunningly utilitarian. Hockeyfan is talking about Cathy Sutherland ("an exit where she crouched on pointe, and in that crouched position walked off the set on pointe"), but I was also very impressed with Allison Cockrill, who has a kind of inevitable quality in all her dancing, rather like a queen.

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