Pat Graney’s latest work returns to women, family and repressed rage.
In 2010, Seattle-based choreographer Pat Graney presented Faith Triptych, a remount of three works she had created for On the Boards between 1991 and 2001. For those who had followed Graney’s work since she emerged as a major figure here in the 1980s, the three dances—Faith (1991), Sleep* (1997) and Tattoo (2001)—were a reminder about how powerful her straightforward and deeply emotional movement could be. These pieces were long and unfolded slowly, gradually accruing strength and significance as the dancers established behavioral patterns and intimate relationships.
Graney’s direct methods were, like the waves of feminism that accompanied them, something of a revelation. It was striking to see work unencumbered by the conceptual frameworks or persona-based modes of expression that are so common among younger choreographers. Graney’s art was confident enough to just be what it was.
In October, Graney returns to On the Boards to premiere Girl Gods, a work that will once again explore her major themes of women, family and repressed rage. On a stage blanketed in a layer of soil and set with video projections, five dancers in cocktail dresses and high heels will manifest generations of suppressed female anger through movement that will come to trace hidden, abstracted genealogies embedded within the dirt.
Graney’s representations of female rage have always been riveting. For her, rage is not a state of being; it is a process of discovery, recognition and understanding that occurs either gradually or suddenly. Graney’s dance dramatizes an awakening of consciousness and a reckoning with past events that lie buried within. But her genius as a choreographer is her ability to forge trauma with humor to sustain a tone of turbulence and discord. She invokes the social trappings of women’s public lives, then upends them with the harrowing, uncomfortable actions of her dancers.
The return of Graney’s work to the stage is timely. The insurgent, badass feminism of the 1970s has long been in remission, subjected to decades of backlash from reactionary forces in politics and the media. And women are, of course, only slightly closer to achieving equality. But the advent of social media has opened up a new realm of discourse to a range of female voices. While outspoken, activists remain under siege (today from legions of anonymous trolls), they have been able to reach out to one another across national, racial, economic and generational boundaries to share common experiences and find strength in solidarity.
This current resurgence of feminism, fueled by the electronic and digital transmission of information, has set an exciting new stage for the return of Graney’s choreography. Girl Gods—with its emphasis on history, rage and resistance—should find an eager audience in an emerging, female-ascendant world.
On the Boards
*An earlier version of this article listed the second piece of Graney's Triptych as Truth, not Sleep. We apologize for the error.