Photos courtesy of Casey Gardner Ford
I did not know what to expect from “So Long, Farewell, Goodbye,” Jacob Lavoie’s send-off performance for his journey back to New Hampshire after two years in Atlanta. Even so, the show surprised me with its thoughtful composition, its clever and evocative juxtapositions and allusions, and its joyous celebration of dance as a multi-faceted multimedia art form.
Audience members entering the Hambidge Cross-Pollination Art Lab, home of Dance Hub ATL, immediately encountered a lobby-sized art installation, Banyan Sanctuary II. . . Nudos Y Alma, by Roberto Rafael Navarrete. The piece resembles a giant monochrome tree—complete with branches, roots, and surrounding ground vegetation—crafted primarily from sheets of twisted white plastic sheeting. During the pre-show performance, Jacob Lavoie used Banyan Sanctuary as the set and backdrop for a circular, writhing, slow, and measured dance performance. As Lavoie burrowed or, perhaps, mined among the artificial limbs and foliage of Navarrete’s work, the touchless online program invited us to consider it in connection with Bloom, an impressionistic flowerscape full of warm peach, blushing pink, lush green, and cool purple tones painted in oil on canvas by Donna Warfield. By presenting these two artifacts together along with Lavoie’s performance, “So Long, Farewell, Goodbye” began by provoking consideration of similarities they share despite their substantial aesthetic differences. Both are visual and textural representations of nature crafted with artificial materials, for example. Further, in this performance, and throughout the history of dance on the stage, choreographers have joined such representations with gesture and soundscape to layer dance with conceptual and narrative meaning. This persistent evocation of dance’s rich and various theatrical genealogies throughout the hour-long show brought thematic unity, polish, and depth to what was also a fun and delightful variety showcase of Atlanta’s dance and musical talent.
After the pre-show, the performance moved to the other half of the Dance Hub, Hambidge Cross-
Pollination Art Lab’s white box space, which was set to approximate a proscenium stage, complete with footlights. Jack Wagner’s resonant performance of Paul Simon’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” further warmed the space, calling to mind the intimacy of a cabaret or speakeasy. In “See Ya!” Lavoie and Megan Long offered a light-hearted and breezy pas de deux. Following on these two pieces, the excerpts from “Hysteria Series” by Frankie Mulinix and Jase Wingate were a reminder of the pandemic trauma that we have experienced and are still experiencing—of the hospital rooms and psychiatric wards where that trauma often plays out, of the medicalized authoritarian gaze that sometimes transforms creative diversity into illness and social deviance. Mulinix and Wingate began wearing smeared white face paint, their mouths messily rouged in red. Long tulle skirts completed their costumes. The choreography was tight, claustrophobic, a performance of bodies bound and hindered, of joy and energy drugged and contained. At one moment the two turned to each other as if to their reflections in a mirror, and each wiped the other’s makeup away. After this moment of transformative potential, however, they both proceeded to don wooden masks. Their stilted movements, now coupled with the uniformly placid blandness of the mask expressions, warned of how a suspicious and fearful establishment has historically misused the apparatus of art, deploying an aesthetics of madness in order to sideline dissenters and contain resistance.
After a brief intermission, the mood of the program lightened once again, but the message of “Hysteria Series” continued to haunt my reception of the final three pieces, “So Long,” “Farewell,” and “Goodbye.” I thought of how the rise of fascism in Europe is the backdrop for The Sound of Music — to which “So Long” and “Goodbye” alluded in costuming, choreography, and the choice of “So Long, Farewell” as the score for both pieces. In this second act, “So Long, Farewell, Goodbye” joined the stages of the cabaret and vaudeville variety show with the stages where ballet, contemporary dance, and modern musical theater are performed. In both “So Long” and “Goodbye” the ballet-inflected jazz choreography assembled the dancers into what was simultaneously a corps and a chorus. Thus, in “So Long” when Ethan Brasseaux cheekily popped through featured performer Tugboat’s skirts, Tugboat referenced both Maria from The Sound of Music and Mother Ginger from The Nutcracker. Lavoie’s creative use of the Hambidge Art Lab’s staircase, his choreographic references to the musical, and the camo green coverall costumes similarly brought the Von Trapp mansion, the Vienna music festival stage, and the Hambidge Art Lab white box into a kind of dynamic superposition. After more than a year of missing in-person performance, Lavoie offered us the exhilarating opportunity to inhabit multiple possible theaters at once.
In “So Long” and “Goodbye,” Lavoie took leave of Atlanta as a collective entity. “Farewell,” though, let the audience witness a series of personal exchanges — of goodbyes and best wishes for what comes next — between Lavoie and the individual performers. Alternating between filmed and live solo performances, “Farewell” comprised a series of individually titled and scored vignettes choreographed collaboratively by Lavoie and the artists. The choreography here was as varied as the artists themselves but drew upon a shared contemporary vocabulary. Memorable moments for me included Jenn Klammer’s transformation of the ordinary into the extraordinary in “Jack’s,” including a sinuous recurring gesture recalling an Audrey Hepburn figure waving a cigarette in the air above her head. Ethan Brasseux, in “wistful gaze,” executed gracefully athletic and carefully balanced floor work, and Kia Street, in “Her (film),” channeled gorgeous energy into a series of intensely focused movements around a simple outdoor table. Framed between “So Long” and “Goodbye,” “Farewell” became a microcosm of the Atlanta that Lavoie encountered when he first arrived and the Atlanta that he leaves behind, now touched and altered by his art. Lavoie’s “farewell” to Atlanta was a delightful medley of styles and influences subtly infused with the haunting drama of “Hysteria Pieces” and the historical backdrop of The Sound of Music. It was also a timely reminder to those of us who live here that theaters have always been spaces of community and entertainment, and potential places for the work of social change and resistance.
Very well-run show! Kudos to Jacob Lavoie and team for integrating visual art, film, movement, live music and theatre work so seamlessly into one evening.