Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company commemorates its 25th anniversary with Breathe Normally, a New York premiere. Jenkins, a West Coast modern dance innovator, continues her habit of collaborating with other eminent creators; the distinguished roster for Breathe Normally is headed by Olympia Dukakis as artistic consultant.
“The springboard for the piece was a story that happened to Olympia’s mother before her daughter was born,” Jenkins reveals. “Partly as a celebration of aging, we explore the transformational impact of the narrative in movement and words. Segments of the initial account resurface and take on different aspects, causing the community to regroup, to reshape relationships and to embark in new directions.” What is remembered and why propels the actors and dancers into and out of a snapshot continuously refocusing, a process driven by metaphorical shifts, ruptures, and fragmentation among the participants.
Jenkins began developing the piece in San Francisco workshops two years ago, after designing movement for American Conservatory Theater’s production of Hecuba, which starred Dukakis. Generative concepts centered around women, elements of power, and the ineluctable dynamic of change. “Staying ready for the surprises is what artists try to accomplish,” says Jenkins, “and that applies simultaneously to both my public and private lives.”
Absent from the stage as a performer for seven years, Jenkins appears with a cast ranging in age from 32 to 72. Ellie Klopp directs the evening-length work. Tom Bonauro’s architectural setting provides projection surfaces for Jim Goldberg’s photography. Rinde Eckert wrote the text, and composer Jay Cloidt contributed original music along with a sound score that features Dukakis’s voice as well as her mother’s recollection of the tale at 92. Evidently, maintaining equilibrium in the face of change— breathing normally— depends on continued anticipation of the unexpected.