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33 Fainting Spells finds inspiration in life's simplest actions.

Small Gestures

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Six years ago, Dayna Hanson and Gaelen Hanson met in a choreography workshop in Seattle. Aside from having the same last name, the two recognized a greater commonality — their choreography, which explores emotion generated from movement. That meeting set into motion the formation of their dance/theater company 33 Fainting Spells. "September September," the company's most ambitious and intricate work to date, recently premiered in Portland, Ore. A blend of vaudevillian dance and song with modern strains of theater, their hybrid work launches the Virginia Museum's Fast/Forward season on Saturday, Nov. 4. "September September" is a series of vignettes featuring four characters who come together for a summer to reminisce after a long separation. The characters' stories do not follow a linear sequence but form a pastiche of quirky interruptions, both comical and tender. Dayna explains the narrative as "elliptical," a present time continually disrupted by episodes and reflections from the past. "It's about as linear as we get," she explains. "We're more interested in derailment when we work in a narrative structure." These "derailments" often involve small objects, (frequently household appliances), a passing preoccupation, or a gesture. Each of these gets amplified, repeated and exaggerated, lending a dreamlike and humorous tone to the work. "September September" continues the duo's mutual interest in how emotions get activated by physical acts. Danya offers an example: "When the angle of light changes in fall, it's a physical event that so often triggers the floodgates of memory to open." Their intent, as in previous works, is to push the boundaries that define dance, to bring attention to little and mundane movement. "We're very interested in a sense of scale," Gaelen says. "A small gesture involving a finger or eyebrow, for instance, is just as interesting as movement that is full-bodied and athletic." Their attention to gestural detail and the power of movement derives, in part, from the Russian theater director Vsevolod Emilyevich Meyerhold, who saw truth best expressed, not through words, but through a character's simplest actions and attitude. The name of their company, 33 Fainting Spells, actually comes from a Meyerhold play. "He was adapting Chekov stories and counted the number of times characters fainted," Gaelen says, " — 33 times. He was interested in real-life movement, not something like a ballet movement." That same fascination with repetitive movement fuels the Hansons. They want to leave behind expressionless dancers for performers who are more accessible to an audience. "It's hard for many to relate to someone in a unitard," Gaelen says, "but if you see someone around a table, sitting at a chair, using props, that's entirely different." A detailed work full of intentional incongruities, "September September" feels familiar, yet a close look at the numerous elements woven together into one work reveals a refreshing approach.

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