It could have been a stillborn American dream: In 1986 an artistic and freethinking mother with a modicum of dance training starts a dance company in Providence featuring her grown kids, who know a little more than she does. Everett Dance Theater, however, was a left-field hit practically from its inception, presenting hour-long pieces that weave speech, movement, and video in witty and beguiling ways. Dorothy Jungels, her son Aaron (the company’s co-director), her daughter Rachel, and others who’ve joined them along the way have tackled subjects that include the Wright Brothers, science, and the working life.
Everett’s choreographic process has always been collaborative, but the company’s latest work, Home/Movies, involves more intimate, hence riskier, collusions. Over a two-year period, the artists plumbed their memories of home and family. The result can move you to hilarity, also to tears. And, in some strange way, although the five performers are diverse, their stories are woven together so intricately through movement that their recollections begin to seem almost archetypal. We have all felt these emotions, or similar ones.
Marvin Novogrodski’s grandparents fled Poland and landed in a Russian camp; some of their offspring, including his father, swam an icy river in January, bound for Israel. Sokeo Ros was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after his parents escaped from Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge; their other children died. The Jungelses’ grandmother took her two daughters and walked out on her abusive husband. Ros’s father, stern and cold to his teenage son growing up in gang-ridden American streets, is shown in a projected snapshot—smiling as he holds the little daughter born here. Bravell Gracia Smith’s African American artist father said thank you to his son only once, just before his death. No one’s story is treated as more important than anyone else’s. The tragic and the wryly comic coexist in a fine theatrical balance that honors both.
The memories are punctuated and emphasized by family snapshots, Super-8 film footage (Christine Mullowney), and videos (Aaron Jungels assisted by Laura Colella and Marianna Tschudi) projected on the backdrop and narrow screens that roll down like blinds (father Bill Jungels gets credit for photo projections, Owen Muir for video projection, and Michael Giannitti for the lighting that makes it all work). In one magical moment, Smith, on a chair behind a scrim, seems to be sitting on the front steps of his house.
But it is dancing that connects and powers the stories and binds the protagonists together. Pedestrian walks, gestures, and poses are set in elegant patterns, accented by fancier dancing by Rachel, the onetime Juilliard student; mild acrobatics; and breaking by Ros. Structures built with bodies coalesce and dissolve: One person is flown aloft, another tumbles and is caught, two join to assist a third. Images relate to text in subtle ways. When Smith’s father passes away, and due to an outrageous bureaucratic snafu there’s no money to bury him, the body in Smith’s arms is Rachel.
In all of Everett’s work, there’s a pleasing tension between the homemade and the adroitly professional. The performing is unforced and low key—as true as the old photos and blurry home movies, and framed with care.