What would you do for love? How does a connection to one true love compare to the unconditional love of parents, children and siblings? What connects us to a place? Is it the physical attributes of the landscape? The comforts of home? Or the company of those dearest to us? These are the queries that rise during Blooming Flowers and the Full Moon, a multi-media biographical dance-theater piece by Natasha Adorlee at the Joe Goode Annex. The final presentation of Amy Seiwert’s Imagery.
Blooming Flowers tells the tale of Dai-Gwa-Sen Johnson, Adorlee’s mother, who followed her heart from Tawain to the United States in the late 1960’s. The piece centers contemporary dance within immersive projected environs designed by Mark Johns of Slide and Spin. The dance sections are interspersed with Dai-Gwa-Sen’s videotaped remembrances, which unfold larger than life on a center screen.
Imagery dancers Kelsey McFalls & Joseph A. Hernandez in “Blooming Flowers and the Full Moon” by Natasha Adorlee, Courtesy Amy Seiwert's Imagery. Photo by Rob Suguitan. Costumes by Alysia Chang. Lighting by Thomas Bowersox.
Dai-Gwa-Sen is an excellent story teller, balancing well the nostalgic and evocative, with the fact-based narrative which moves the tale along. Her family fled communist China for the greater freedom of Tawain when she was only a girl.
At the core of this piece is a love story between Dai-Gwa-Sen and her American beau. With the support of her family, but to the distress of his, they fall in love and marry while he is on military assignment in Tawain. At the end of his tour, they settle in the Midwest. She studies for and passes the U.S. citizen test. They become parents. She lives the life of a stay-at-home mom, though their partnership ends too soon with his unexpected death.
Onstage, the loving couple is portrayed by real-life partners, Kelsey McFalls and Joseph A. Hernandez, whose palpable chemistry fuels the forty-five-minute work. McFalls dashes in long diagonals and then rolls and twists, feet over feet, through flowing wave-projections which wash across the floor. Overwhelmed, confounded, she lies on her side, an arm and leg extended outward, Hernandez seeks to right her, taking a wide stance, grasping her raised foot, he tugs pivoting her up to join him.
Hernandez holds McFalls horizontally as she swims above the floor. A skyward toss allows her to roll and face him landing in the cradle of his arms. We see her falling in love, gaining confidence in her infatuation as confident Flamenco overhead arm poses punctuate childlike games of tag.
Adorlee’s choreography brings forth the couple’s playfulness, risk-taking, and trust in one another. They are clearly each other’s companions and champions. McFalls arches tilting precariously backwards above Hernandez, who lays waiting to catch her. Repeated lifts find McFalls upside down, her legs wrapped in Hernandez’s arms emphasizing the unique texture of their time together.
Whether nested between his legs, or planked above his supine figure, she finds ways to circle his head with her own. Whatever the future of this piece, McFalls and Hernandez’s duet to Roberta Flack’s ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ is a keeper. Their sensual partnership matches the aching beauty of Flack’s lyrics. In a kiss for the ages, the final intimate minute of the duet unfolds with the couple rising and twirling as one with their lips touching throughout.
Adorlee casts herself as the third and final cast member. She opens Blooming Flowers with a solo, in which I saw references to both Asian martial arts and modern dance. She wears a flowing Chinese silk robe over a black high-necked cocktail dress, lending credence to my interpretation that her dance symbolizes a mixture of social influences. Another interpretation is that Adorlee represents the mother in her maturity, or perhaps a universal woman, who sacrifices her birthplace and culture in pursuit of love and transformation.
The 3D projections are amazingly bright and clear, appearing on three backing panels through which performers come and go. Moving and still images appear on the floor as well. The piece’s opening and closing sequences feature vertical raindrops on the walls and a floor dotted in two-foot-wide concentric circles, meant to evoke puddles. While interesting one wonders why this story, of abiding love and resilience, is bookmarked by these dark rainy scenes.
While the Taiwanese urban nightscapes, richly layered in neon signs, provide upbeat and engaging pre-play wallpaper, too often the projection overpowers or drives action. Silhouettes of military propeller planes move from screen to floor seamlessly, flying over the performers, whose gaze follows their menacing paths. Though technically intriguing, this sequence seems overly long, perhaps in service of the 3D capabilities more than the plot.
A segment in which Ardorlee, in the role of the citizenship interviewer, facelessly confronts the audience with a series of increasingly intrusive questions is jarring. It is unlit and unamplified, breaking with the production’s strong AV capabilities. It vilifies the citizenship process, working against the mother’s own attestation that she was proud to become a citizen, pleased to have her work colleagues celebrate her success.
The slower pace and poignant texture of the dance which continues between McFalls, as Dai-Gwa-Sen, and Hernandez, as her husband, even after she is widowed is beautiful. It echoes earlier phrases but with renewed tenderness. Allowing the dance to continue demonstrates how sustaining his love was for her.
Adorlee makes thought-provoking movement which deserves our full attention. Blooming Flowers is at its strongest when the live performers dance in clear light, without moving images distracting from their movements, or low light levels required to ensure clarity of the projection. Finding the proper balance between dance and AV capabilities will bring this production to full bloom.
Review by Jen Norris, published January 22, 2024
Joe Goode Annex: January 19 -21, 2024
Blooming Flowers and the Full Moon
Choreography: Natasha Adorlee
Costumes: Alysia Chang
Lighting Design: Thomas Bowersox
3D Design: Mark Johns (Slide and Spin)
Music: Nicholas Britell, Thomas Konstantinou, James Heather, Roberta Flack, Vincenzo Lamanga, Clark, Glen Velez, Michael Wall
Dancers: Natasha Adorlee, Joseph A. Hernandez*, Kelsey McFalls
*Joseph A. Hernandez appears courtesy of AXIS Dance Company
Crew: Gwen Sullivan, Aaron Shimunovich
Tea Service: Carl Goldberg
Produced by: Amy Seiwert’s Imagery; Artistic Director: Amy Seiwert; Managing Director: Annika Presley