Grauert-Shelton Bearnstow Workshop Performance

Bearnstow Main Hall, Mount Vernon, Maine,
July 12, 2012

A Review

Come 1945, Frances Reid and I decided we wanted to run a summer camp that was, in our minds, ethical. It was to be interracial, interreligious, and co-ed, and offer the arts and non-competitive sports. With Pauline Faretra, we saved our gasoline coupons (WWII was still waging) and the three of us drove to Maine. . . . I finally asked one agent to find me the property on Parker Pond that my principal (I had been teaching junior High School) had told me was for sale. The agent found it and brought us to the top of the hill. . . . We had to walk in over drowned timber, for it had been closed since 1942 and the road was blocked with logs. In the Main Hall were about 50 empty liquor bottles. In the Lodge was every mattress from every cabin in the camp, stored for all those war years, and every rodent for miles around had found it a cozy home. But we went to the Ledges, looked over Parker Pond, and saw the sand beach and point beyond. “Is that property available too?” “I don’t know. I’ll find out.” It was—and we had found our camp site.

—Ruth Grauert, “A History of Bearnstow,”

I can‘t read Ruth’s account of the first vision of Bearnstow without tearing up, because I know “the rest of the story”: both the ethical vision and the art have flourished for 67 unwavering years.

The performance on Thursday, July 12, 2012, was quirky, inspired, vivid, provocative. (I did not take notes, expecting to go home and write, but ended up in the hospital with arrhythmia [my old nemesis] and began again days later with the help of conversations with Ruth and Carol Hedden).

When the program was handed around to those of us waiting outside the Bearnstow library, my neighbor looked at the dance titled 2:00 a.m. and groaned; “that‘s only the title of the dance,” somebody

Sara Shelton Mann, Ruth Grauert, and the company take bows.
reassured him. And this proved miraculously true: the performance was a seamless hour—impossible but true, of such polish and flow that I could have gone on watching much longer.

We started in the Bearnstow Library, with a thumbnail history of Bearnstow—the books, photographs, mementoes, a concluding picture of the head of a young woman whose direct gaze made clear it was Ruth, destined, as our guide suggested, to sleep in the room above us every summer for 67 years.

Sound pretty staid? Or did I fail to mention the ballet dancer in the rocking chair, poised first one way, then another, her face flawlessly decorative and inexpressive; and the agile leprechaun-like creatures who peered through windows, held my gaze briefly, then vanished.

Outside, on our way to the lodge, we paused for Untitled Solo—an extraordinary dance by Emmanuel Becerra in which he slid in the pine needles and loose dirt before the lodge, rolling, recovering, twisting and jumping in again, a woods animal at play. His jumps, said Carol Hedden, were so gravity-free that the eye caught him in still poses in mid-air before he threw himself again on the ground.

Once inside the lodge the dining room became the performance space, which means it was turned inside out and back again, with windows for entrances and exits, swinging kitchen doors for rapid entries and retreat, which allowed brief glimpses of the next performer, poised and waiting.

The eight dances that followed were each so distinct, but so seamlessly blended, that the performance flow was both rapid and distinctive.

Dasha Chernova and Tyler Rai Abramson struggled to remove and exchange their shirts, which moved back and forth between the two bodies in Beginnings. In How to Walk on Pine Needles Dasha danced with a harmonica as a partner—no hands on, and yet she produced precise complementary chords from the harmonica in her mouth, while creating emphatic and startling moments in her own performance. In the 2:00 a.m. performance, which had terrified my neighbor, Tyler Rai Abramson moved in through the window on the porch to dance to the sounds of rain and then retreated with folded limbs through another window. Denise Gagner, in a tank top and long brown skirt, performed Within An Acre on the floor, into which she seemed to blend, and then in the air without detracting from the peasant elegance of the long skirt, which seemed to float with her as a body extension. Molly Hess and Nitzia Vieyra in Heading South gave us a precisely choreographed tandem duet, broken by individual performances, and then reunited in rhythmic unison. Ashley Tanberg’s Separate was a study in contradictions, her relation to the floor organic and fluid, receiving staccato emphasis from a victory pump of her arm.

Projected décor for Sticks and Hats designed by Ruth Grauert

The final piece, Sticks and Hats, which involved the whole company with lighting by Ruth Grauert, was a festival of light: needle-like vertical lines of flowing, changing colors mingled with flow and changing hues of the dancers. Carol Hedden said she was fascinated by the movement of light and of the dancers, somehow together and yet more than the sum of their parts; the way the two worked, said Carol, expanded each other.

Danny Weatherbee, whose accordion had provided two musical intermissions, created an upbeat movement for the end so those who wished, could move into the middle space and themselves join the dance.

This was intensely pleasurable, and as always, impossible to capture in words. But I am so grateful to Bearnstow for these evenings of high energy, imagination, and yes, for rock-hard, dependable, unwavering ethical vision.

—Pat Onion

The “Hat Dance” from Sticks and Hats

Sticks and Hats in September

Sticks and Hats was performed again at the final concert of the season, September 1, 2012, in Bearnstow’s Main Hall. Another reviewer reflects upon this performance.

Pitch black the audience sits expectant. There is shuffling, a muffled cough as the dancers are felt to make their way swiftly, nearly soundlessly to the rear of the stage. A hard metal click breaks the silence and the scene suddenly radiates rich and vibrant colors, tropical and lush. The gasp of the audience is audible. We are transported. What are we seeing? Shapes? There are shapes. But what is moving? Is it the colors? Is it the shapes? What are those shapes? Are they lines? Are they dashes made of colors? There are contours and edges, undulating and hypnotic, coming near, receding back, shifting space and time. The captivation of the audience is unbreakable through every rise and descent of pace, every nuance of depth and alteration. Slowly we begin to recognize the dancers, their faces, their props, their keen orchestration of the mirage held in tandem and entirety. And we are wonder struck. We have found our way from utter mystery and envelopment to understanding and envelopment still, and are deeply pleased at the magic.

—Mary Therese Duffy