Garrett + Moulton Return to YBCA

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Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton are interested in what connects us as human beings. Ever since the choreographers formed their dance company Garrett + Moulton in 2002, the nature of human connection has functioned as both subject matter and a line of inquiry for the company. As culture evolves, the meaning of what connects us also evolves. As active and engaged participants in creating and observing culture, Garrett + Moulton use the evolution of the human experience as the foundation for exploring new ideas and formulating new responses to the question. What they discover in the process is reflected through their choreography and work within the community.

Being a San Francisco-based dance company, Garrett + Moulton actively engages with what Moulton describes as the City’s “petri dish of communication and exchange, which produces a cross-pollination of inspiring ideas and people, woven together into a fabric of diversity“ to draw upon and inform their work. One result of that engagement, says Gretchen LaWall, one of the company’s dancers, is that being part of Garrett + Moulton, ”Feels like family. This is a very exacting company, and the work is complex.” 

That complexity runs throughout the company’s latest program, Four Acts of Light & Wonder, which features three local premieres —  “Gojubi,” “Hunting Gathering,” and a new version of Moulton’s signature large-scale Ball Passing work — plus a reprise of the audience-favorite “The Mozart.” Four Acts of Light & Wonder features twelve soloists and live music performed on the stage by ten musicians. With 40 performers taking part, as well as the world premiere of a new score by composer Jonathan Russell, the company believes it is its most ambitious program to date. 

Garrett describes “Gojubi” as a “fiercely exuberant and over-the-top” response to “a dark and worrisome time, with life-threatening, unsettling problems.” Rather than get mired in despair, Garrett created a work requiring an exceptional amount of energy that propels the dancers through space. Gojubi is a word Garrett made-up to express a particularly vivid kind of jubilation. LaWall calls the piece “exciting and dynamic… it’s fun and the audience will be intrigued from start to finish.” Moulton goes even further, saying “ it’s really a wild-ass, crazy big piece of art that comes out of the gate on fire, smoking.  For the dancers it’s last man standing. They do everything they can, as fast as they can. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s articulate, but it burns a hole in the sky. [“Gojubi”] is really something.”

“Rather than get mired in despair, Garrett created a work requiring an exceptional amount of energy that propels the dancers through space. Gojubi is a word Garrett made-up to express a particularly vivid kind of jubilation.”

“Hunting Gathering” draws its inspiration from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The Over-Soul,” but audience members familiar with his essay shouldn’t seek explicit references or parallels in the work, in which Garrett explores our active desire to connect, and what happens when we become disengaged from each other. Deeply personal in its tone, LaWall describes the creation and performance of the piece to be the most artistically challenging due to its  specificity of technique and execution, combined with how it draws on the individual experiences and emotions of the dancers.

Five company dancers and guest artist Jeremy Smith perform 2017’s “The Mozart,” which features sections of the composer’s piano sonatas, including Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, performed live by Allegra Chapman. Garrett and Moulton have described the piece as “pastry-like” for its exuberant layers of lyrical states of emotion, but when asked why they made it “The Mozart” instead of “The Beethoven” or “The Ravel,” Moulton replied, “Mozart, more than any classical composer, is still a force of nature. His works are monuments of extraordinary natural beauty. Beethoven was emotional and wonderful in his own way, but Mozart is deeply affecting and beautiful… he speaks to what we’re capable of as humans.”

Since its first iteration forty years ago in a small Manhattan studio, Moulton’s Ball Passing has been performed around the globe and in wildly different contexts, including the Joffrey Ballet, children’s hospitals, and community workshops by as few as three people and as many as 72. Moulton attributes the sustained popularity and success of Ball Passing to its value as a metaphor for community cooperation. Each time the company returns to it, Ball Passing finds new and different ways to convey an essential truth about communication, community, and connection. Some of the work’s expressive abilities may be due to its roots, which Moulton traces back to his Irish grandmother, a teacher who worked in a one-room schoolhouse in Minnesota. Her community maintained models of cooperation and communication designed to benefit the group, including barn raisings and harvests. 

Moulton knows what was true in his grandmother’s time remains true today. “The only success we can have is if we can communicate,” he said, which brings us back to what originally attracted Garrett + Moulton to San Francisco, and what keeps them firmly rooted here. From Moulton’s perspective, “San Francisco is at the point of the spear for challenging assumptions. It’s a place that asks, ‘What does it mean to be a humane culture? A humane society? What does it mean to have a functioning political system?’ People here, socially and artistically, exemplify that.”

Credit: Alex Farnum

Credit: Alex Farnum

Credit: Alex Farnum

Garrett added, “To be in an environment like this  – where we are encouraged to examine our commonality as human beings and to nurture what connects us and is shared by us all – is great. As an artistic home, the Bay Area supports us in exploring what is at the heart of our shared humanity.”

For YBCA’s Performing Arts Curator Isabel Yrigoyen, Garrett + Moulton’s inspiration from the surrounding community is important. “We are always excited to work with Janice and Charlie as community partners, because their work aligns with our mission,” she said, adding “Our organization works with local, national and international dance companies who explore all the complexities of what makes us human.  Our mission statement is ‘We generate culture that moves people.’ There has always been a commitment to creating pathways for the public to engage deeply with visionary artists who express a range of human experience through dance. Janice and Charlie have always impressed me personally, because of their deep engagement with their practice, and how their expressive lyrical works inspire beauty and contemplation.”

Yrigoyen couldn’t agree more. She said, “Whether it’s through performance, healing therapies, arts education, environmental activism, social justice, or through intercultural collaborations, many Bay Area artists are creating work that not only respond to important issues but are using their creativity to make a difference.”

Garrett, Moulton and Yrigoyen all agree it’s fortunate to be working within the distinct culture of the Bay Area, which has a large and inquisitive audience, which Yrigoyen describes as, “very responsive and hungry to experience culturally transformative art that brings people closer together and that inspires us to build a better world.”

Moulton agreed, concluding, “ Hope is active. It’s something that we have to make.”