Dancers literally build the new show ‘Economies of Effort’
Cid Pearlman’s newest dance show, “Economies of Effort,” is all about pulling back the curtain to reveal the pre-performance process—something most audiences of a classical ballet or repertory don’t get to see. For the show, which opens at Motion Pacific on Friday, Feb. 20, Pearlman’s performers build boxes, erect lamps, work with power drills, wood, dollies and poles, and illuminate their way with head lamps—they’re producing everything themselves, and it’s all part of the show.
“We basically cut ourselves loose from the trappings of the technical aspects of theater … the only thing we need is basically three power outlets to run the show,” Pearlman says. “It’s a lot like camping.”
Pearlman believes that the experience of an audience member can be just as real—and just as tangible—as reading a book or eating a meal.
“Of course dance can be captured by a video, but I think that if you read a story in a book you don’t imagine it as ephemeral because the book is always there. But in fact that story still mostly exists in your mind,” Pearlman says. “What you got from the dance, what it made you think of, there’s so much that goes into this thing—months of rehearsing and sweat and creativity, inspiration and heartache—saying that it’s ephemeral discounts the labor that goes into it.”
Many audience members might discount the value of performance precisely because they aren’t able to hold the finished product, to mount it on their wall or put a price on its consumption, says Pearlman, who currently works with the Museum of Art & History’s Subjects to Change Teen Program, and recently concluded a residency position at Motion Pacific dance studio.
“There’s an economist named William Baumol who says that because of technological speedup, certain things—consumer goods, cars, computers, and watches, even food—seem relatively inexpensive because the time of production has become less,” says Pearlman. “Other things like performance or healthcare or education therefore seem quite expensive because they take time and can’t be sped up through mechanization—it takes as long to make a dance as it always did.”
But this isn’t the dance of pretty little ballerinas prancing about, being lifted up every so often by a male counterpart: it’s hard work.
“When women build something you might have this idea that we would build a house and then we would decorate it with curtains—and then we would have tea,” she says. “This piece isn’t that; we’re not leading to a narrative of heteronormativity where women build homes.”
The dancers construct their environment to emphasize their independent strength. Even with an all-female cast, Pearlman says she doesn’t focus solely on gender in her work. But, she concedes, in a “feminized industry” like dance there are always dynamics left to explore.
“I wanted the dancers to be the hero of their own narrative, I wanted it to be about them,” Pearlman says. “One of the ways to do that was for them to do all the labor themselves, then they’re not operating in a world that somebody else created for them. The piece is about the power and the agency you get from making things.”
The movement itself, she says, combines “big, physical risk-taking” with smaller, intimate gestures as an amalgam—“part dance, part performance art, part museum installation.”
Pearlman’s show opens with “Drowning Poems,” which she choreographed in 2011 based on poems by Kelly Powers, Emily Dickinson, and Stevie Smith. The piece works through themes of depression and what Pearlman calls “complications of deciding whether to stay in the world or not.”
But, Pearlman is adamant, the overall show is fun and has its light-hearted points. After all, it was made with the audience in mind.
“This is a piece that has a lot of doors into it. My work isn’t necessarily work that’s for only a dance audience,” she says. “It being accessible is also really important to me.”
Info: 8 p.m., Feb. 20-22, Motion Pacific, 131 Front St., Suite E, Santa Cruz. $18-$25. PHOTO: Cid Pearlman’s ‘Economies of Effort’ at Motion Pacific in Santa Cruz. BEAU SAUNDERS