It would be difficult to find a pair of more disparate performances than the two works that make up Antagony Loves Company, a dance-theater event coming to Burlington’s FlynnSpace this Thursday and Friday.
Half the evening belongs to Paul Besaw, associate professor and dance coordinator at the University of Vermont, who has created a dark, slow-moving meditation on the Korean War. The other half is a slapstick comedic romp featuring a Russian figure skater, a pair of incompetent dancers and scenes from the American Museum of Natural History, all sprouted from the mind of Vermont choreographer Selene Colburn.
“We’re both taking divergent approaches to dance theater,” says Besaw. The works may seem wildly different, but presented side by side, he adds, “Who’s to say if they aren’t related?”
Besaw’s “Momma at the Gate,” is a nonlinear interpretation of two war stories — Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, written in response to the start of World War II and set during the Thirty Years War, and Korean writer Park Wan-Suh’s Momma’s Stake, written about her experience during the Korean War.
Both stories explore themes of mothers and daughters, war and survival. “I was really surprised how closely related they are,” says Besaw’s wife, Chong Ho Kim, who is performing at FlynnSpace. Still, the works offer different perspectives. “Brecht is political, Park is so personal,” says Besaw. “It’s really her life story.”
“Momma at the Gate” was created collaboratively with the dance collective Agnes Table, which includes Korean dancer Hansol Jeong, American actress Sarah Wiggin and American costume designer Leon Wiebers. An electronic score by local composers Alec Julien and Yutaka Kono will be enhanced at the performance by live percussion and singing by Korean musician Min Jung Kim.
Besaw hatched the idea for this work while on sabbatical with his family in Seoul last spring. The movement in the piece is contemporary, but influenced by salpuri, a traditional Korean dance marked by soft, slow, fluid movements that Besaw studied while abroad. And the text is bilingual — Kim speaks exclusively in Korean; Wiggin in English.
“Even if you speak neither of the languages, what happens creates images you can respond to,” says Wiebers, who designed original costumes from found materials, including authentic Korean military jackets from the Korean War era.
After Besaw’s crew has worked the FlynnSpace audience into a meditative state, Colburn plans to rile them up with a trio of comedic duets performed by local dancers Clare Byrne and James Moore.
Colburn’s portion of the evening, called “Potboilers,” features three mini-comedies. “They Can’t” is a slapstick piece in which two dancers attempt to put on a performance but are thwarted at every step. “They mis-enter, the music isn’t right, they don’t really know their cues,” says Colburn.
“Pairs,” another duet starring Byrne and Moore, features a duo of ice skaters — one stereotypical Cold War-era Russian and one American — performing for the first time at a charitable event. Expect hilarious snafus and silly accents. “It’s not subtle in its comedic conventions,” says Colburn.
In the third and final segment, Brooklyn-based performer Paul Benney joins Colburn onstage in a new duet inspired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. The piece is part of a larger body of work Colburn has been creating about the Hall of North American Mammals. That work, says Colburn, “is kind of endlessly evolving for me.” Another comedy, this piece features Besaw and his wife incognito as a bear and a shrub, respectively.
“It’s a huge experiment,” says Colburn, who is excited to see how her and Besaw’s works are received together. “It might be a really wonderful experience, it might be really disjointed.”
Either way, it’s sure to be an unusual and enlightening night.
Antagony Loves Company, Thursday and Friday, November 14 and 15, 7 p.m. at Flynn-Space in Burlington; $16-20.