Photo: Rebecca Tien
Rebecca Tien, Clintonville Spotlight
Monday, April 4, 2022
On a bright, Sunday morning, five barefoot women worked together to drag gnarled tree branches and stumps onto the rehearsal floor at Hixon Dance Studio, framing the space with lengths of gauzy fabric suspended from the ceiling.
The simple set mirrored the mood of Sarah Hixon’s new piece, “A Harrowing World: Dance, Poetry and Song,” which is simultaneously tortured and tender.
Hixon described the piece as an exploration of “sororal and maternal relationships, how we respond to grief, the way we create shelter through our experiences, and how the past shapes our perspective of the world.”
The inspiration came from local poet Maggie Smith’s now famous poem, Good Bones, and five of her other works. Hixon wove those words together with dance and original composition by musicians Lauren Spavelko Heart and Jacob Reed.
Life is short and the world
is at least half terrible, and for every kind
stranger, there is one who would break you,
though I keep this from my children.
Smith’s words speak of an innocence that must inevitably be broken and the pain and disillusionment that comes with that. They speak of a searing and uncomfortable truth, leaving a strong impulse to shake them free.
This the dancers performed gorgeously, moving through connection, love and frustration in equal measure.
The work was long in progress. It was conceived in the summer and fall of 2019, when Hixon first was exploring melding words and form together. At the time she was working with a dramaturg to find text that could be interpreted through dance, and Chris Leyva introduced her to Smith’s work.
The piece was intended to be performed in April 2020, but like so many things at that time, got indefinitely delayed.
“We had to hit the pause button and figure out how we worked as a company,” said Hixon. “We stayed connected through Zoom, dancing in our basements, kitchens, living rooms, whatever space we had, and that was hard physically, to try to work in these tiny spaces, but also psychologically.”
Eventually, the company was able to convene again in person and in the summer of 2021, the company began to revisit the piece – which was performed the weekend of March 25-27.
“The first couple of rehearsals there was a lot of negotiating,” Hixon recalled, as dancers returned to her space at 5080 N. High St. across from the Graceland Shopping Center.
“Am I allowed to touch you? Is it OK if I stand this close? It was definitely a process getting back into it and feeling safe.”
Hixon also was struck by how differently the piece is interpreted by her dancers and potentially received by an audience in light of “this new traumatic experience we have collectively been through. If nothing else, the dancers have a lot of strong feelings about getting to do this in front of an audience, without masks on.”
Hixon’s approach is distinct and perhaps foreign to anyone who might have been exposed to a world of dance that involves ordered rows of girls in pink with tight buns. Dancers arrive in whatever feels comfortable to move their bodies freely, from the littlest 2-year-old dancers who attend class at the studio right through the 82-year-olds who improve their strength and balance through movement.
What is also unique is Hixon’s collaborative approach with her company dancers. The process of continual creative expression and the give-and-take of ideas between the dancers and Hixon is clear even in the final moments of rehearsal before the performance.
Each dancer plays an integral part in bringing Hixon’s vision to life, offering their own insight and personal experience to every movement they perform on stage.
Hixon might bring the bones, but her dancers robe them with sinew and flesh, making each movement deeply their own.