Three women walk in a circle, strewing seed from homespun sacks, personifying Demeter, Greek goddess of harvest and fertility. It’s a simple yet powerfully grounded image. Thus begins “For That Which Returns,” representing a collaboration between Washington’s Arachne Aerial Arts and Baltimore’s In-Flight Theater, that is part myth, part memory play and a meditation on the holy, sometimes unholy bond of mothers and daughters.
Tim Scofield’s two-part sculptural design element dominated the stage at Dance Place, as well as the work’s movement vocabulary. I can only describe it as a cross between a giant metal tree, a weather vane and a coat rack. Its bottom half allows the performers to move around and through its stable frame. Sometimes they act like gleeful children, climbing and swinging on its “branches” as they enact childhood memories. Sometimes Andrea Burkholder and Sharon Witting depict the story of Persephone’s descent into Hades and her ascent and reunion each spring with her mother, Demeter.
The sculpture’s upper element features a giant arrow that circles and provides the rhythmic meter, mesmerizing because of the wonderful control of the performers to hang and swing in slow-loris fashion and footfall silently. Occasionally, the dancers’ exploration grows repetitive.
The performers also explore text provided by director/dramaturge Bryce Butler. Mara Neimanis, founder and principal performer of In-Flight, seems most comfortable with verbally communicating and sustaining sound. The script, with its oversupply of nouns, at times becomes awkwardly precious. Some of the most successful text is provided by taped interviews with two little girls. Their precocious chatter on what they want to be and the nature of mother-daughter relationships is fresh and delightful.
As a movement ritual, the work was an appropriate tribute for Mother’s Day weekend. The two companies join forces again for short performances at the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Festival at the Reston Town Center Pavilion, May 18 and 19.
Galbraith is a freelance writer.