Remember you must die. A fitting moniker for the new work by choreographer Katie Vaught. The contemporary piece presents landscapes of courage and pays homage to the struggle and anxiety that has remained a constant reminder of the pandemic. In this premiere performance, the company explores true stories of risk. Drawing on The Corfu Trilogy by Gerald Durrell for inspiration—a testimonial to a mother’s strength moving her children to an island in Greece as they survive starvation and more—Vaught depicts the abandonment of fear created by jumping into the unknown.
The work began with a soft marching tune, “Sun Will Set” from “One Cello X16: Natoma” by Zoë Keating and Zoe Clare Keating. As the three dancers cut wide swathes across the stage, I was immediately aware of the journey the intrepid performers were to embark on. Clean and sharp arms pierced the air, waving away their past lives and propelling them forward into the unknown. With a swell of music, the trio broke away from each other and explored their own personal struggles. I was impressed by the control of movement, harkening to Graham technique Vaught’s well paced choreography never left room for my eye to wander.
…a perfect display of Vaught’s provoking aesthetic…brimming with stellar technique, control, innovation, and strength.
The mournful first movement of Sonata No. 14 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2—”Adagio Sostenuto” (“Moonlight Sonata)”—from Beethoven: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 3 by Paul Lewis accompanied soloist Zoë Brielle Payne in a stark spotlight. Trapped by the confines of the light, she revealed an inner struggle and conveyed a sense of deep pain and yearning. She is freed by the next dancer’s entrance and they began to move together through a fascinating phrase with bent elbows. Their bodies were fluid and yet I could tell that every muscle was completely engaged. The use of breath as an exquisite accentuation to the physical movement was a lovely touch by Vaught and brought haptic force throughout the piece.
The story progressed with “Sad Seine” from “Lost Tapes” by Lambert as the dancers leapt through the air, forging ahead. Cunningly, Vaught incorporated classical ballet aesthetics in the foot work and well executed lifts. As the trio faced new struggles, the choreography reflected a darker mood. A loud heartbeat at the onset of “Optimist” from “Into the Trees” by Zoë Keating illuminated perfect moments of stillness in between the elegant contortions. The music seemed to inhabit the performers as if they had lost the ability to resist the rock and roll tempo and began to find their joy and sensuality rolling through their cores.
This was immediately followed by an electrifying jump accompanied by a well timed lighting shift that left me simply speechless. The choice of music, “Shadows” from “Shadows” by Bonobo and Jordan Rakei had me moving along with the trio on stage from my seat. The fresh and innovative use of hips, core, and arms was fun and funky, a perfect display of Vaught’s provoking aesthetic.
“Falling Off a Horse” from “Dark Days Exit” by Felix Laband employed a unique soda popping sound mixed with acoustic guitar that lent a playful edge to a stunning duet between Payne and Destiny Arlette Cooke. Their bond was clearly evident, never quite losing touch of the other. I saw the inspiration for the piece here, a bond between mother and child forming as the child becomes stronger and more adventurous. Cooke was then joined for a second duet with Melissa Lloyd, embodying a continued sense of play but with looser and more open movements accompanied by the adventurous “Ethio Invention No.1” from “I Want to See Pulaski at Night” by Andrew Bird. I interpreted this as two children, opening to the world around them, falling and exploring together without giving up. This was effortlessly woven to the final phrases of the evening to “Dorval” from “Delay” by Julia Kent with the full trio. Vaught neatly ended the story by recalling past tableaus in a reimagined state, endowing the final moments with nostalgia for the journey and a sense of hopefulness turned to the future. The conclusion was memento mori manifest, remember you must die, but reminding us that first we must live.
The Vaught Contemporary Ballet Company should be proud of the work they created that was brimming with stellar technique, control, innovation, and strength. If I had to claim an adjustment it would be that although each individuals’ sense of character was sharp, the relationships between the three performers was unclear to me until the mid point. There was a costume change from the photo above which was useful to declutter the performers’ form but could’ve have been an opportunity to clue the audience into those relationships. However, perhaps it was intentional to blur those lines and equalize the struggle for each individual as they abandon their fear and rise to challenge of uncertainty.
“Memento Mori: runs through Sunday April 10, 2022 at Baltimore Theatre Project 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore, MD 21201. 50% of the proceeds from Vaught Contemporary Ballet’s Sunday ticket sales will benefit the Baltimore Abortion Fund, a nonprofit that supports people living in or traveling to Maryland for abortion care. To learn more about their work, please visit here.
To purchase tickets and view more information click here or call the box office at 410-752-8558. All patrons must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Please bring a proof of vaccination (either the original vaccination card, or a photo of the card) along with a valid I.D. All guests must wear masks while inside Theatre Project.