Dance Review: KAIROS Dance Theatre’s “Husk/Vessel” — A Place where Embraces and Violence Meet

By Thea Singer

Love, anger, frustration, hope, sadness, lullabies — they are all here through movement that is by turns elegant and awkward, nuanced and propulsive.

Cassie Wang in Husk/Vessel. Photo: Liz Linder

The very title of director Paula Josa-Jones’s driving, thrumming new work for KAIROS Dance Theatre evokes the coming together of opposites — a yin-yang of the textures that have characterized our pandemic lives. Created over those at once barren and cramped two years, Husk/Vessel kinesthetically explores the sloughing off of brittle membranes and the filling of interior hollows with passion and light.

Choreographed by Josa-Jones and KAIROS artistic director DeAnna Pellecchia, the 45-minute piece for five women premiered October 14 and 15 at Boston University Dance Theatre. Using large swaths of white fabric as symbol and, intriguingly, as dance partners, Josa-Jones and Pellecchia, in collaboration with the performers, posit on stage a landscape as turbulent as a dust storm and as ephemeral as clouds. Love, anger, frustration, hope, sadness, lullabies — they are all here through movement that is by turns elegant and awkward, nuanced and propulsive.

Each dancer has her own massive bedsheet, which, through artistic legerdermain, she transforms from a cloak to a whipping lasso, from a holding cell to a shelter, from a skating pond to a doll-as-effigy held aloft, the head fashioned by the dancer’s hands clasped around its throat.

The eclectic score by Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, D.J. Fraction, and Dhaka Brakha butts echoes and sonorous instrumentation up against static, bell clangs, gongs, trills, and more — at least those are some of the sounds that caught my ear. The dancers perform a series of solos, duets, trios, and ensemble sections. Throughout, it’s as if they are both inside the music and the music is inside them.

The story — and it is a narrative of sorts, rife with relationship squabbles and reconciliations — begins with all five women scrunched under their coverings, slithering in unison across the stage on individual paths: they’re droplets of mercury seeking to merge. One by one they individuate, their heads emerge and then their whole selves. A single dancer jumps into the arms of another, who cradles her. Another, later, bangs on the ground what at one time was a protective covering, stomps away, then comes back to wrestle with her would-be betrayers. Welcome to a pandemic-infiltrated world — a place where embraces and violence meet.

It is hard to take your eyes off dancer Rachel Linsky. Each impulse — the “and” before the movement — arises from deep in her core, flipping her onto her back, rolling her inside her sheet like a snowball gathering thickness. In a startling duet, the glorious Kristin Wagner grabs Linsky by her belt and rockets into the air, ultimately riding her like a seahorse.

Olivia Blaisdell brandishes the fabric like a cape, swirling until she’s encased in it, a virtual mummy. Reversing course, she spreads the sheet as outstretched wings before tossing it to the winds: I’m done with you; you restrict me.

You might think that 45 minutes of interactions among people and cloth would get tiresome, but the opposite is true: it’s riveting. You get caught up in the rapid dynamic shifts and the roiling emotions aroused by these no-holds-barred dancers. There’s something cathartic in witnessing the intensity and intimacy — the shared breath and sweat — of people, all of us, who have been separated from one another for far too long.

Josa-Jones opens the show with her 10-minute solo “Cavallus,” an homage to the loss of her beloved Andalusian stallion, Capprichio. It beautifully sets the stage for the ever-changing weather of Husk/Vessel.

Josa-Jones is known for her work with an interspecies company comprising horses, dancers, and riders. The curtain rises on a a ghostly horse: a saddle crafted atop a half-barrel with wheels. Josa-Jones, dressed in gray — a jacket, long, layered skirt, and ballooning leggings, accented by a black veil across her face — mounts the steed.

The air is thick with mourning; it’s as if we’re looking at the dance at dusk. The soundscape, by Fred Firth, is discordant, full of gongs and shuddering strings. As Josa-Jones manipulates the horse around the space, she executes odd, haunting movements: sitting upright, her bent knees rise to her chest, her hands clutch as if pulling at heartstrings, her bare feet jitter.

She is saying goodbye, gently while also acknowledging, to herself and us as her witnesses, that Capprichio will be with her, and through her work with us, forever.

Thea Singer is a longtime dance critic and science writer based in Brookline, Mass. Her articles have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Scientific American, MORE magazine, O the Oprah magazine, Psychology Today, Huffington Post, Boston magazine, the Daily Beast, and Nature Outlook.

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