Lori Belilove and her company of dancers worked together in the BAC studios for eight hours a day of class and rehearsals for her new work Wild Beauty. Their two-week residency began just after the CDC allowed vaccinated folks to gather unmasked. “The first day we went around the room and went ‘A FACE! AHA!’ while looking at each other. We animated our faces as a start.” Because of the pandemic, many dancers hadn’t been training in the way that they were accustomed to, so they started slow.
“We didn’t know how much jump was left, how much fluidity was left, how much technique was left inside of us, so I nurtured and explored that as an opportunity to renew.”
In Wild Beauty, Belilove is working to “beg, borrow and steal from my dear Isadora, and throw her to the winds, gather myself, and bring in the power that I feel. [Isadora] has a Victorian sweetness within her repertoire. It has a cathartic niceness, and I wanted to disturb that. My new work is called Wild Beauty because Duncan did her dances in her time and there is an internal feminine power that I think can be evoked further.” She calls her work “Belilove’s Isadora,” and finds herself often returning to the Duncan repertory as source material. “We all come from somewhere. Isadora came from somewhere, too, so I’m just carrying on.”
In writing about Wild Beauty, Belilove referred Duncan’s “iconic feminist aesthetic.” I asked her how Duncan’s work embodies feminism as she sees it: “I think we should just go back to the Greeks. That is where she figured something out about the power of the female archetypes within mythology. The Greek sculptures embody such a rich beauty of the female body. If you look at an Aphrodite, or an Athena, it doesn’t look anything like the model Victorian body that she must have grown up with—the cinched waist, the parasol, the boots—all of that body shaping. She says that she evoked the Statue of Liberty, and in your wildest imagination you can’t imagine that statue in a tutu. Isadora was making herself mammothly large from an internal place because of her breath. When the corsets took away the breath from women, feminism was going down. So, breathing is a huge part of understanding Ducna’s technique and the iconic feminist aesthetic.”
I first encountered Belilove while attending the retirement performance gala for dance historian Dr. Lynn M. Brooks at Franklin & Marshall College. Belilove paid homage to Brooks, a mutual friend and board member for Belilove’s Isadora Duncan Dance Company, by dancing an excerpt of her solo The Art of Isadora. That evening, F&M students ardently performed Duncan’s Dance of the Furies, restaged by Belilove. Throughout her career, Belilove has worked on countless reconstructions of Duncan’s work. In her residency at BAC, however, she worked on what she terms a “deconstruction” or a “dismantling” of the interior material of Duncan’s signature pieces. “There is a phrase within the dance Death and a Maiden, choreographed by Isadora, and it is a minute and a half of frenzy: huge points, big swooping skips and crashes, and turns and twists. In my new work, we dismantled that phrase, reconfigured it, and added more points, more repetition, and more twists and turns, as an idea of how to make even more of a frenzy. It became kind of like wild horses at that point.” There is a sense of growing intensity even as Belilove speaks about her process of reinforcing the ideas within a phrase, making it more concentrated and true to its own feeling state.
The group worked with ten different pieces of music before Belilove settled on The Moldau by Smetana, an homage to the Volta river in Czechoslovakia, and a piece that she has been wanting to mine more deeply. “If I read further [into the music], there was flooding that would happen, and the folk would be displaced. I’m interested in water, in the delicate balance of our natural resources, and making a statement about it and invoking it in our bodies in the power and preciousness that it is. I learned from Isadora some tricks for how to handle symphonic music: sometimes when it’s at the top of the range, she does nothing, and other times she stays way within it and moves off of the melodic line.”
“When I coach dances, I talk to the dancers, sometimes in technical terms, or I shoot out little notes while they’re dancing. I have one extraordinary dancer, Nicole, who has been doing the Death and the Maiden dance for some time now, and evoking some really spiritual depths.” At the end of the residency, the new work was being filmed and “there she was in her full costume. She did the whole dance, and she was way beyond technical coaching, so I began to speak the poetry of the dance. I said: And when she began she had nothing, and now she can’t take anymore, and now she can’t stand, no don’t take my life, I’m not ready yet. We were crying at the end. Don’t take me yet, that’s really the name of the dance.” This was a magical moment for Belilove within the residency. “I’d been afraid to have my voice in performance and this is the breakthrough into it. The residency broke me open to the idea that my voice could be used. I’m stimulated artistically again—it’s all bubbling.”
Note: Though the premiere of Wild Beauty is tentatively planned for Fall 2021 with rotating casts of dancers, Belilove and dancers were able to perform a portion of the finished work just one week after their BAC residency, on June 11th at Global Water dances in Riverside Park.
Originally from the Midwest, Ellie Goudie-Averill is a dance artist and educator who works with dancers of all ages on technique and performance. Since graduating with her MFA in Dance Performance from the University of Iowa in 2007, she has served as a professor at Temple University, Bucknell University, and Franklin & Marshall College. She currently teaches Ballet at Connecticut College, where she recently created a new work outdoors for ConnColl students. Ellie has danced professionally for Susan Rethorst, Lucinda Childs, Bronwen MacArthur, Group Motion, and Stone Depot, which she co-directs with Beau Hancock. She is a regular collaborator and dancer with Tori Lawrence + Co. in dance films and site-specific works.
Photos by Maria Baranova