“The Linen Closet” update…

New work in progress introduction:

One research project I am developing is a new solo work titled The Linen Closet.  This is a half hour dance theatre work that I have choreographed and am performing. Robert Post has been a director with me, helping with specificity, voice, and timing.  As of this writing, the work is almost finished in terms of sections, but this summer I intend to fine tune the dynamics, work on transitions and physicality.  I intend to perform it as part of a solo show in September, 2017 in Columbus, Ohio.

What the piece will look like:

Through the work’s episodic structure, many facets of women are portrayed: their clothes, their bodies, and their work.  The use of fabric is a theme and through manipulation of sheets, napkins, aprons, and bolts of fabric, characters are revealed that are resolute, yearning, sensual, oppressed, and eccentric.  The sections hint at many stories, many women – stories of oppression perhaps, about birth and death, about the male gaze, and also about the enduring fortitude of women’s work, women’s humor, and women’s tenaciousness.  I propose that at the intersection of body, clothing, and other domestic uses of fabric, there are rich dynamics about social constructs of identity, purpose, and beauty.  I aim to tease apart these dynamics through dance and theatre methodologies including some audience interaction with the sculptural elements on the stage.

A tall table, reminiscent of a work table in an old textile factory, and a standing closet are built from re-purposed wood, designed to suggest an earlier era, and the closet’s walls and doors are stripped away, as if seen through.  These were made by artist Nate Gorgen. Two large tin washbasins sit near the table, filled with piles of unfolded linens, fabric pieces, and lace.  In each of the six sections, various pieces of fabric get used either like props or as clothing.

The work has six sections, including the first one where the audience (as they arrive) is invited to take fabric pieces out of old laundry bins and fold, sort, and place on the shelves. Throughout the run of the show, fabric pieces will be supplied to add to the evolving and shared work so that audiences one night add to the work done by the audience the previous night.  Suggesting the collaborative, horizontal structures of feminine work, this participatory installation hopes to provide a quiet meditation on labor, as well as creative association and memory.  The linen closet shelves will be labeled in expected and unexpected ways, creating a poetic jumble of possible categories and ways of seeing the world. Examples of these shelf labels include, “bodies slip under” and “fingers are given”.  This audience engagement was tested when the set piece was part of a gallery exhibit in 2016 as part of the Cultural Arts Center “Dare to Be Heard” programming.

Once the audience is seated, the performance begins with the remaining five sections.  Each part deals with fabric in different ways; some parts with humor, some with pathos, and in all I seek to expose woman’s ways, and in particular myself as an “older” performer, as both subject and object with all the concomitant complexities of oppression and desire.

A little bit about process:

Creating an original dance theatre work is largely an emergent qualitative research project.  While working, I like to balance the details and specifics of the choreographic work with the macro view of connecting idea to idea, idea to concrete movement, and idea to world issues.  Along the way in the process I accrue menus of imagery, movement motifs, texts, sound, music, and fabric manipulations.  In time, during what could be considered the middle of the process, discreet sections begin to coalesce around themes and imagery, both visual and aural, and in the final stages an overall arc is found with consideration of the rhythm and pattern of voice and tone throughout.

My methodology also includes iterative stages of showings and working with a director to help hone and shape the emerging intentions of each part.  The work is shaped through a layering of internal, physical processes, influence of research through reading and images, and external feedback from video and chosen experts.  The process is simultaneously intuitive and pragmatic.  Equal attention is paid to emotional resonance and cognitive structures.  Form, pacing, timing, and design are all considered. I recently shared the work at Denison University and at Kenyon College and the students and faculty gave me rich reflections and impressions of the work, as well as gesturing towards aspects that are not yet fully realized or resonant.

The new relates to old:

This work relates to a seminal work I made in the 1980’s and performed more than 100 times: Is a Woman, choreographed using a silk chiffon gown that belonged to my grandmother where several women characters emerged and “spoke” through movement, gesture, and voice.  The Linen Closet is a sequel, or development of this earlier work, and through theatre and dance languages, is continuing the investigation of the role and perception of women in relation to fabric and clothing.  The Linen Closet is far more complex and developed than Is a Woman, as my own career and work as an artist is considerably more mature.

In the 90’s I also made two short works, only seen in Cleveland, Ohio: My Grandmother Got Married in a Black Dress and My Grandmother Entertained – parts of those short works have re-surfaced in The Linen Closet.

Over the years, I have used text and voice in various works:  Starting Over, An Improvisation, Is a Woman, Bloodlines…  I also have been writing more poetry of late, so the use of a lot of text and speaking in The Linen Closet feels like a natural next step.

For more, see my other blog posts at this site.

Published by petry37

Professor, Department of Dance, The Ohio State University

2 thoughts on ““The Linen Closet” update…

  1. This is SO EXCITING!!!
    Truly wonderful…..and I at least want to be there to see it in September.
    Perhaps that is a real possibility.
    I loved the set piece for the exhibition earlier this year and am
    now very excited to see the full realization of your creative thinking.


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