Pat Graney Company's "Faith Triptych" is a retrospective of the Seattle choreographer's "Faith," "Sleep" and "Tattoo," revised to fit into a single evening. Graney, who won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1995, is one of Seattle's best-known choreographers.
Call it a homecoming of sorts — even though Pat Graney, unlike other prominent Pacific Northwest choreographers, never left town except to tour.
On the Boards is remounting three of her signature pieces, “Faith” (1991), “Sleep” (1995) and “Tattoo” (2001), in a single-evening show titled “Faith Triptych” that opens Thursday. All three dances were originally commissioned and presented by On the Boards. In their new “Triptych” format, they’ve been trimmed considerably, with “Sleep” almost halved from its original two-hour running time.
Florida-born Graney attended The Evergreen State College in the 1970s and made a permanent move to Seattle in 1979 at the age of 24. Her numerous awards include a 1995 Guggenheim fellowship. She was perhaps the first Seattle choreographer of any prominence not to leave Seattle upon reaching a modicum of success.
In a 2000 profile of Graney, former Seattle Times dance critic Mary Murfin Bailey praised Graney for her “witty, dreamlike works of dance theater” and described her as “Seattle’s leading modern-dance choreographer” for the past 20 years.
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Graney, discussing the piece in an interview in her Seattle offices last month, covered an eclectic range of topics — everything from Jungian dream-work and the paintings of Caravaggio to the making of wedding cakes and her memories of travels to religious shrines in Mexico and Brazil.
While it was sometimes difficult to follow the tangents of her conversation, her passion for what she does was unmistakable. “Faith,” “Sleep” and “Tattoo” were not originally conceived as a trilogy, she admitted. In fact, “Faith” was at first going to be a collaboration with the Mud Bay Jugglers. When they dropped out, it became an all-female piece. Graney immediately felt she’d tapped into a vein that needed further exploration.
With “Sleep,” she delved into “girls’ and women’s hopes and dreams,” employing an elaborate development process that involved her dancers keeping dream journals and conducting interviews with their mothers. The result is a more literal dance that takes viewers through the stages of girlhood, adolescence and womanhood.
“Tattoo” was something else again. Three years in development, it delved into “trance-speaking” (automatic speaking while walking very slowly across a room) and drew on architectural plans and memories of houses once lived in as a template for much of its movement. Graney enthusiastically described it as “sort of a rhythmic monster.” She doesn’t necessarily expect the audience to pick up on the architectural origins of the moves they’re seeing: “What’s important is the specificity of the detail.”
In a stripped-down rehearsal in August — with no special lighting or staging effects — the dances, especially “Faith” and “Tattoo,” appeared to have good bones. In the final production, elaborate visuals and makeup will be part of the show.
Despite the significant trims and revisions Graney has made to fit these pieces into a 3 ½-hour time slot, she doesn’t view “Faith Triptych” as a new work. Instead, she sees it more as a museum-like visual-art retrospective: “an exhibit of work — you’re looking at work that happened over a 10-year period.”
At the time of creating the pieces, she said, she had little idea of where she was headed. What she does in making a piece — “and maybe other artists do this as well” — is pursue “something of beauty … not really knowing how it’s going to fit together at all,” she said.
Certain memories of creating the pieces remain vivid. In “Faith,” the final section is performed in the nude, with the dancers in stiletto heels: “We made up all the movement without high heels on. Then we put the heels in, and it completely sexualized it.”
In creating the work with her dancers, she said, she usually wants them “to do stuff that they don’t know how to do.” Pushing them and herself past the limits of familiarity and ability, she contended, is the only way she’s able to come up with movement she’s never done before.
As for content, she characterized all three parts of the triptych as being “about the everyday, about the preciousness of the moment.”
She also sees them as meditations on identity: “How do you see yourself, how do you inhabit who you are — that’s always an ongoing question, probably for anybody, but for women in particular.”
Part of her exploration of femininity ties into the closed societies that women form, especially when under opprobrious circumstances.
“There’re always secrets,” she said, “the things that happen in repression, the things that are coveted in repression, and the things that are preserved in repression.”
While she has no direct experience with Jungian therapy (“I couldn’t afford a real Jungian therapist, unfortunately”), Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s ideas remain a key influence on her: “I really am so interested in … the idea of the collective unconscious and recurring images and archetypes,” she said. “I just find that fascinating.”
Most of the dancers in “Faith Tryptich” performed in the original productions of the three pieces — and they’re in better shape, Graney said, than they were back then. In fact, Frances Kenny’s costumes have had to be taken in, in some cases.
“Some people are a lot smaller than they were, actually, which is bizarre.”
Not only are the dancers more fit, they’re more seasoned in their performance skills, perhaps because several of them, including Peggy Piacenza, KT Niehoff and Amii LeGendre, are now choreographers in their own right.
“It’s really great to be dancing with people over 40,” Graney enthused. “It’s wonderful. Everyone’s doing better than they were. They’re just more masterful.”
While Graney’s most recent choreography has had a female focus, she’s not averse to setting pieces on men.
Recently at the University of Minnesota, as she led students through the high-heel section of “Faith,” the men in the class said they really wanted to do it. Graney gave them the go-ahead, cautioning that they’d need to find a female part of themselves.
They did, said Graney: “And they looked stunning.”
Michael Upchurch: email@example.com