note: entire contents copyright 2000 by Beverly Creasey
Elizabeth Barrett Browning sang the praises of hard work; Studs Terkel collected "Working" stories for his book. This week the Cambridge Performance Project and Cambridge Multi-Cultural Arts Center celebrate Cambridge women who work in a dance/theater piece at Kresge Auditorium (MIT) appropriately entitled "Celebrating Cambridge Women at Work". Joan Green and Victoria Solomon of the Back Porch Dance Co. use the gestural language of dance to punctuate the personal stories of eight local women. We can all recognize the familiar gestures which match the voice-over text: arms thrusting upward in exultation, open hands reaching out in supplication, bodies bent over in mourning. They named their company Back Porch because they often use the experiences of ordinary women as text in their performance art. In fact, this current piece would be right at home at a company like Mobius, an experimental performance space which melds the performing arts.
The first story is Maria Jose Goncalves, whose sweet face is projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage --- technical design by wizard Eric Levenson. The voice-over is her daughter, speaking in English. It tells about Maria's work as a curtain folder when she emigrated here from Portugal. The dancers mirror her experiences, from feeling cold and alone to becoming part of a powerful workforce. The dancers move from invisible to invincible, straightening their frames to show empowered figures like archers gracefully bounding across the stage. The music they dance to, by J. Hagenbuckle, is a mixture of opera (Puccini in this vignette) swing, folk, techno, ballad and pop --- from Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan.
Then funeral director Artis Spears' story gives the choreographers the chance for some lovely griefwork, making it one of the most moving vignettes of the evening. Dancers hold each other in pairs evoking the healing power of the feminine embrace, especially when young is paired with old, like mother and daughter. The dancers project mothering, soothing and delightful humor --- as when Stephanie Hope has to squeeze out of a packed pew of mourners.
Macy DeLong tells a hilarious story about her grandmother fending off a thief with a cast-iron frying pan, illustrated by the grey-haired dancers brandishing pans. The vignette ends with a great circle of women unfolding, like Mark Morris' "Chrysanthemum".
In Harvard biologist Ruth Hubbard's story, Solomon and Green, with Jen Schoonover and Ann Allen, create a touching pas de trois for Schoonover, Sally DeAngelis and Irene Lutts (which Green joins at the end). The three dancers lovingly support each other's heads...then each rests her back on the others, cradling her as Hubbard tells about awakening with the women's movement and saying "no" to her male colleagues' atavistic assumption that she will take notes for them and get their coffee. Lutts caroms across the stage, tray in righteous illustration of that word "no".