Julia Adam’s dance in the woods

David Briggs
ARTS: A sensual interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood and the “mycelial nature” of relationship were themes in Julia Adam’s outdoor production in Nicasio this month. Read about it on page 10.  
07/30/2015

Behind the dead center of the stage stood a tall and leafy bay laurel tree, a multitude of trunks shooting up out of the base. Its presence as a backdrop to a performance the past two weekends in Nicasio brought the unusual woodsy setting of the modern but balletic dance to the fore, as white-clothed dancers speckled in bright-red leaves would soon begin an alternative, sensual rendition of Little Red Riding Hood. 

The performance marked the second West Marin installation of Julia Adam Dance, the brainchild of the San Anselmo-based choreographer and former ballerina Julia Adam. The project is meant to wrest dance out of theater spaces and provide people with plenty of time to feast and mingle before they witness the performance. Last year, the dance took place at the Launch for Hire on Tomales Bay, with water-inspired movements set against the view of the bay as darkness fell. This year, she traded water for the woods and choreographed a dance titled, “The Mycelial Nature of Things.”

Rich Clarke, a Point Reyes Station resident who attended on Friday, said the performance seemed to appear “right out of the atmosphere…It’s part of the magic of West Marin to have such a creative thing just be there and surprise me.”

Ms. Adam, who typically choreographs pieces for the indoors, said she was becoming “weary of the sterile environment of the theater” and longed to create a dance integrated into a natural environment. She was also thinking about how to foster a more communal experience. 

“One of the thoughts too, with my husband, was this idea of putting them in a beautiful place and gathering around food, to commune and bond in some ways, then to move and go watch the art and sort of stimulate the whole person, all their senses: taste, sight, sound, smell,” she said. At RockRose Ranch, locally sourced food was served family-style, starting early in the evening. There was pork from True Grass Farm in Valley Ford and beef raised by her husband, Aaron Lucich, in Santa Rosa. In a shaded grove of bay laurels, guests consumed pates and scooped chunks of pork onto their plates that bore cracker-crisp skins and glistening fat jiggling like jello. Patrons took a breather from the meat with a fresh cucumber salad, then dove back in with aromatic skewers of Middle Eastern-spiced beef kebabs.

Around 8:30 p.m., as members of the audience sipped on hot chocolate or bone broth, the performance on Friday began with one of the dancers—the narrator—tossing pages onto the stage, creating a mess the other dancers started to pick up.

Ms. Adams said the dance layered the idea of the mycelium—the below-ground network from which mushrooms fruit—with the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The eight dancers occupied both the typical roles in the story—the little girl, the grandmother, the wolf and the huntsman—with new roles she had imagined, like the wolf’s wife, the huntsmen’s horse and a narrator. 

Even without knowing the storyline Ms. Adam has for the piece, the sensual movements and relationships between dancers expertly convey erotic tension. (Over the course of the performance, the lusty wolf ends up devouring all the women.) At one point, the dancers—all clad in white—strip down to flesh-colored underthings. Part of the performance also uses violin renditions of songs by Radiohead; one song, “Creep,” reflected the grandmother’s “Mrs. Robinson-type” desire for the wolf, Ms. Adam said. 

The choreography also conveys the connections between the dancers as they lift and jump and move with each other, and often repeat other dancers’ movements. Ms. Adam said the idea of the mycelium intrigued her in part because it reflects how everything is “talking to each other.” She strived to recreate that both in the performance and in the night of conversation and conviviality.

Dancer John Speed Orr offered one example of a move first done by the huntsmen, then echoed later by the huntsmen’s horse. “Everyone had to know each other’s little phrases and quirks and turns and facings, or it wouldn’t function,” he said. “That’s a huge part of her choreography; it’s built around building phrases…and having anyone be able to hop in and do it, only slightly different. That’s one of the hardest things: to take a repetitive motion and change…because your mind wants to create a muscle memory and repeat it.”

Mr. Orr said the practice makes him more conscious as a dancer. “You can’t check out,” he said.

Those movements kept Mr. Clarke captivated. “There was a common flick of the knee and foot that happened a number of times that got my attention,” he said. “It made me that much more aware of the creativity and choreography.”

At the end of the performance, the papers are again tossed about on stage and along a rough dirt path behind the stage, where the dancers disappear into the woods. This time, the narrator helps pick them up instead of just tossing them. Is he picking up pieces of the story, trying to put them back together again? Characters might end up dead, but the story—in some form—lives on.