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Choreographer Karen Harvey Explores Water

Photos by Steven Schreiber

Karen Harvey Dances performed the seraphic Wetlands at the Center for Performance Research in East Williamsburg this past weekend. Wetlands, directed and choreographed by Karen Harvey, focused on the impact water has on our human experience and reminded us of its simple and powerful beauty. This evening-length performance showcased a love for nature and a need to express that love through movement.

Originally from Knightdale, North Carolina, Harvey’s parents owned a canoeing company called “Quiet Water Canoes.” Her stately and childhood influences are apparent throughout. Wetlands exhibited a journey that provided a concrete conclusion: “Water knows no boundaries.” By incorporating live music, modern dance and site-specific video, Harvey deconstructed water into three sections - “Enter,” “Journey,” and “Flow.”

Upon entry, six large silver bowls adorned the downstage area, which contained water, colored rocks (think science museum gift shop) and tangled jewelry. The cast splashed, dripped and poured the water, playing with the intensity of live sound and mimicking water's unpredictable and unprecedented temperament. This decision created diverse soundscapes and a serene environment, an appropriate echo for the theme at hand.

The opening text was taken from an interview between Karen Harvey and John Connors, a wetland biologist and the director of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science. Dancers complemented the blogtalkradio-esque audio through gentle partnering, always keeping an eye out for one another. The recording also included excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s “Walking,” an essay concerning the relationship between civilization and wilderness. The text provided clues towards the dancers’ physicality, a metaphor for the wetland ecosystem. Protecting one another within their phrase work and intertwining patterns, each lunge pliéd towards a fellow dancer, fluid port de bras weaved in between torsos. Circulating the metaphorical flow, companionship was obvious from the get-go.

To illustrate global connectivity from a natural element, Harvey showcased videos from Scotland, Oregon, Korea, Spain and Mexico, among others. Interspersed between dance phrases, the video segments varied in length, but all had two common threads: dance and water. One video stood out in particular; filmed on the coast of Spain on a cloudy day, Silvia Balvin, collaborator and short film subject, pranced and stretched in the shallow ocean waters. She appeared contemplative, alone, playful and fascinated. The sand was thick and noiseless under her busy toes. Saturated with deep blues and grays, the perspective made the subject appear at home with water, a creature born for this. It was these quiet moments within Harvey’s segmented programming that allowed for Wetlands to have a cohesive and unifying flow.

Here's another site-specific video that showcases Harvey's North Carolina influences:

http://vimeo.com/56721456

A cappella chants and hymns from cast members René Kladzyk and Andrew Broaddus punctuated Harvey's poetic experience. Their singing reminded me of hiking trips and how one can choose to observe the melodic elements in a forest: bodies of water, trees, animals, the crunch of dirt under feet. These poised chants developed that landscape on stage, again tying together the theme of waters naturalistic soundscapes.

Harvey’s movement research about society's dependence on nature managed to maneuver away from stereotypical hippie tendencies, and instead created a consistent and artistic landscape. All elements and characters had a purpose and pleasantly delivered a composed and aloof message to an eager audience. I look forward to Harvey’s future questions and concerns about our world, and am certainly curious how her work will fit into our technologically driven landscape.

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