The following review is courtesy of Lightsey Darst, dance writer/critic:
Everett Dance Theatre: “ Home Movies”
What’s the use of stories? Everett Dance Theatre’s “ Home Movies” is full of them; we seem to be fascinated with telling and hearing them, and yet I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps stories remind us that we’re all human and all have things in common: as the performers identify their homes projected onto hanging screens, we remember our own. But stories just as often set us apart: Cambodian-American Sokeo Ros’s tales of his parents’ escape from the Khmer Rouge won’t be familiar to most in the audience. Perhaps it’s the shape of stories that we like–the set-up, the slow build-up, the payoff–yet some of the stories in “ Home Movies” just trail off. Stories take up time, so maybe we enjoy that momentary immersion, or maybe we enjoy that momentary immersion because we know it’s going to end soon. Why ever we like them, we tell and listen to stories often, in conversation, print, film, cartoons, and other media.
I’m wondering about stories because “ Home Movies” doesn’t have much else. Yes, there are some projections on stage, but they only illustrate the stories; there’s some dancing, but the dance feels subservient to the story, as if both visual elements were simply presentation aids. Although “ Home Movies” is up to date in various ways (the media, the music mix, the onstage mix of bodies and ethnicities, the “ anything goes” style of postmodern dance), it’s essentially an old-fashioned performance. So, again, why stories? Dance doesn’t tell stories on its own, other than very simple ones. Instead, dance, like many other art forms (static visual art, poetry, non-verbal music), presents visions, feelings, atmospheres. Or am I just fooling myself here, and are these all pieces of stories–stories without the context? I switched from writing short stories to poetry because I found myself more interested in the inside of a story–how a person feels when watching snow at a particular point in her life–than the outside. The story remains.
Here’s my theory. A story is a scene we look into, a privileged glimpse, a secret; we value the communication, the you-standing-there-talking-to-me. As we look into this scene, though, because it has nothing immediate to do with us, we are able to sympathize, to empathize, and to create a relationship between ourselves and the scene. Perhaps it reminds us of something already in our past (late-teens struggles to define ourselves); perhaps we believe it’s in our future (the death of those near to us). Perhaps it’s beyond our experience, but we can begin to understand through the story (escaping from the Khmer Rouge or the Nazis). Stories broaden our experience, and by some magic we all become vulnerable before them.
Which is to say that “ Home Movies” is a strikingly sincere, heartfelt piece which asks you to remember and consider many critical junctures in life. The performers work their way up from childhood to the present, telling their different stories in roughly chronological order, acting out each other’s stories, but without connecting their stories together (even though a brother and sister are on stage together). A series of stories about the deaths of parents are moving, even tear-jerking in an old-fashioned way. This kind of emotion–still and always valid–hasn’t made many appearances since the high tide of irony left us all beached.
Oddly, for a show about stories, “ Home Movies” is a little shapeless. It feels long. I usually don’t like dance which serves something else, but here I enjoyed the mix of dance, movement, and speech. The performers are charismatic and flexible.
I am left with one question which it may not be Everett Dance Theatre’s job to answer: what is the difference between lives? If one person escapes from the Khmer Rouge and another’s deepest trouble is confusion about what to do with one’s life, are these lives equivalent? Can health, freedom, and peace understand disease, oppression, and misery? “ We’re all human” and “ we all want the same things” feel too easy. What is it that we share? What can we make or say (from our place of privilege) that will help anyone not privileged?