ThRough the pandemic

Dance performance explores the reality of living during a pandemic.

From left: Jesse Jason, Lisa Gross, and Abby Bender. —Roberta Kirn

Walking through the rabbit hole is exactly what the pandemic experience has been like — an altered reality not unlike attending the Mad Hatter’s tea party. And I kept thinking about “Alice in Wonderland” throughout “ThRough,” a wildly imaginative performance piece constructed by Jesse Jason, Abby Bender, and Lisa Gross. Bender explained in an email, “We began this piece in January by assigning ourselves some stream-of-consciousness writing exercises. When we shared the results, we found that the common themes and feelings cemented our need to address this unprecedented time in all our lives. Through movement, text, and media we attempt to pull some sort of meaning out of our collective human experience. Moreover, and arguably as important as the resulting performance, is that our coming together to make the work created ‘meaning’ and purpose in our daily lives.”

“ThRough,” billed as an immersive, site-specific movement theater, was a thoroughly absorbing outdoor performance that took place on the property of a lovely West Tisbury private home just as the sun was setting through the rise of the moon on a recent cloudless night. Bender introduced the performance from the porch, explaining that we would be signaled by the dancers throughout the nearly one-hour piece to shift from location to location and occasionally given instructions. She then, moving in front of logs with a fake campfire, launched into a riveting monologue about feeling lucky that she was not trapped during COVID, comparing herself to a slew of circumstances — some funny, some real — of people who were trapped, whether having fallen down a well, having to sever a limb, or being in skin that would make her a target.

This opening launched us into a series of multifaceted vignettes that ranged from the serious to the amusingly absurd about living through these surreal times with the senseless death amid the pandemic, and the social, political, and economic upheaval. Bender says, “Making work about anything else seemed petty, and frankly, impossible. We were all focused on the ways in which the world and so many lives had been turned upside down or needlessly destroyed. Before the vaccine, we’d all been living with so much fear and unknown. The effects of the pandemic on our own lives, though comparatively trivial, were still real. Some of them were even admittedly positive, like reconnecting to nature, spending more time with our immediate families and pets, re-engaging in hobbies. In other words, we often found ourselves in a privileged enough position to live more fully amidst the incessant news of so much death.”

During the wide-ranging piece, the performers, who included Laura Hall, Jesse Jason, Roberta Kirn, Susan Puciul, Kalyan Sayre, and Sandy Stone, used the two houses on the property as a three-dimensional backdrop. Lit from the inside, we watched them dance or perform daily chores through the windows on the various floors as others danced or sang on the ground level outside before us … sweeping us into a fantasy world. There were times they actively solicited our participation, with signals to move through magically lit areas on the property, circle a huge tree to peek inside windows, or later to throw paper airplanes carrying messages relating to the travel theme of a particular segment.

There were vignettes of pure dance, such as the one with full-length mirrors that struck a chord of too many hours of navel-gazing; takeoffs of musical theater that were done with bunny-type ears, and even some with a standup comedy sensibility. Bender says, “We use a fair bit of levity in the show for a few reasons: to poke fun at our own privilege, to create a safe distance from which to address humanity’s most recent aberrations, and to give ourselves permission for much-needed laughter.”

The poignant end included the entire cast singing a haunting melody with changing repetitive lines that made us aware of living through this historic period, and was full of hope about what it will be like to embrace our lives as the world opens up.

Walking back to where we parked our cars, I was filled with yearning for a future full of more experiences that made me as happy and aware of feeling hopeful once again.