By Joe Ferguson, contributor
Through the foggy window of a bus, I see scores of tourists queued outside of theaters on Market Street. Despite the rain, they are dressed in their finest—gowns and heels, suits and loafers, big hair and flashy costume jewelry. Above them, glittering marquees advertise faux-Broadway shows.
I am not envious of those folks and their $300 tickets. I don’t enjoy spending two hours in a steamy theater being assaulted by visual spectacle and offensively-loud show tunes. I like my performances to be provocative, intellectually-stimulating, heavy on substance and spare of spectacle.
I’m making my way almost an hour across town to see Katharine Hawthorne’s newest work, Between the Wish and the Thing at the ODC Theater. I’ve seen her works before, so I expect I’ll be rewarded for my effort. About this new piece, however, I know few details. I’ve heard the audience size is kept intentionally small and intimate, and that we have to move around a bit during the performance.
When I arrive at the theater, I am ushered to a desk where I am politely asked to write “a wish for the future” on a yellow sticky note and wear it like a name tag. People mingle and read each others’ wishes—there is no social-media anonymity here, your face and thoughts are out in the open. Katharine enters the foyer with a bowl of fortune cookies—we are instructed to eat them and save the messages. She then asks for four volunteers to read their fortunes. She, in turn, physically interprets each message before weaving them into a composite dance, which she performs to music played over the speakers of her smart phone.
We are then directed to the theater, but take our seats on stage and face the traditional seating area. The space goes dark, and Katharine begins a monologue. As the lights slowly rise, we see a black-shrouded figure moving low and in the distance. It speaks—Chinese, Spanish, babbled syllables and sounds. Katharine joins the figure and an intimate dance of entanglement begins. A third dancer enters with a shout, and joins the duet.
The performance continued, performers and audience moving from space to space, light to dark and back, for the remainder of the one-hour performance. I could see influences of ballet, hip-hop, and Buster Keaton physical comedy. There were shades of childhood dreams, divine predictions, and science fiction. A significant portion, I was told, was improvised.
Watching the performance, I was reminded that Katharine has a degree in physics and dance, which clearly informs her work. The piece could be interpreted as an investigation into time and space—the three dancers representing the three tenses of past, present, and future interacting with each other and gravity.
Some scientists have described Einstein’s geometric theory of gravity as an ongoing cosmic dance, with matter and spacetime interacting. In the absence of gravity, an object will move on a straight line through spacetime at a constant velocity along a straight path. If other masses are present, however, they exert an external force that curves spacetime. In this circumstance, there are no straight lines, just like there are no truly straight lines on a sphere. This distorted geometry acts on matter, forcing it to move in a certain way, which changes the geometry again, in an endless dance.
In Hawthorne’s Between the Wish and the Thing, the performers are constantly reacting to each other and the space, but by breaking down the fourth wall, and involving the audience in the production of creative and aesthetic content, Hawthorne creates a more affecting relativity that demands deeper reflection on our entanglement with each other and the world we live in.
If you prefer your art lite, stay away from Katharine Hawthorne’s works. If you want a performance that lingers in your thoughts and conversation, Between the Wish and the Thing may be what you’re looking for.
In addition to Katharine Hawthorne, Between the Wish and the Thing features the talents of dancers Elizabeth Chitty and John Chandler Hawthorne, lighting by Alexander Zendzian, and costumes by Tabatha Sartain.