“Gentle Our Driftless Caravan” is an exceptional new dance work choreographed by BLiPSWiTCH (Taryn Lavery and Alex Miller) and Alexa Capareda. Commissioned and produced by En Route Productions, the piece is site-specific, and performances take place at Rain Lily Farm on a set designed by Ia Ensterä.
The farm setting helps to create a sense of intimacy and grandness. Rather than the dark rows of an enclosed theatre, the audience sits in a thrust configuration, in the expansive night air, on large wooden farm spools and seats made from pallets.
The performance space is indicated by a ground covering of sand, which the dancers’ bare feet kick up when they run. A line of troughs with ramped sides bisect this performance space, forming a kind of river. When the dancers wade across this set element, their splashes contrast the puffs of kicked sand.
From above the troughs, streams of water fall like a single line of refreshing rain. The effect is beautiful, surprising, and feels open and abundant, just like the recent rains after a summer of drought.
As dancers cross underneath it, the water affects their costumes, rinsing off sand and making the fabric wet and heavy. More than just a visual effect, the water and sand create a tactile sensory landscape for the performance to inhabit.
The sound of falling water produced by the set is carefully augmented by Henna Chou and Adam Hilton’s live soundscape, which underscores the piece, blending electronic notes, live percussion, recorded water sounds, and modified human voices.
The lighting design, by Natalie George Productions, highlights the bodies of the performers and the water feature, transforming the dark farm into an incredible dance venue.
As the dancers navigate the set, the dividing line of water draws attention to their spatial relationships. At times, one dancer is isolated on one side of the water while the other four are positioned together on the other side. As the piece is performed by five dancers, all the arrangements are asymmetrical.
In this work, the space and the choreography are deeply integrated. In one moment, a dancer fords the line of water while lifting another dancer over one shoulder, creating an image reminiscent of border crossings and care. In another moment, dancers run towards each other from opposite sides, and then retreat, suggesting an inability to connect.
Much of the piece’s beauty comes from its simplicity. The choreography plays with synchronicity, mirroring, and repetition of gesture, so that simple movements are emphasized as they recur in multiple bodies, and take on significance.
Many of the gestures are big, and visible to audience members on either side of the water, like lunges and reaches, but the choreography doesn’t shy away from the subtle, either, embracing contrast. In one such blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, one dancer’s fingers tap against another dancer’s thigh.
The piece is abstract, and much of the movement vocabulary is drawn from modern and contemporary dance, but it feels accessible, rooted in an exploration of natural elements.
The score and choreography combine to suggest big emotions -separation, grief, love — and the farm setting roots the piece in a deep sense of place. It is spectacular and meditative, intimate and grand — triumphantly full of contradictions that work.
‘Gentle our Driftless Caravan’ continues Sept. 7-10. For tickets see enrouteproductions.com/now-playing