Éowyn Emerald’s relationship dances

The Portland choreographer gets married on stage to top off her program of dances about relationships

I met Éowyn Emerald two years ago when I interviewed her as one of the three choreographers making new work for BodyVox 2, BodyVox’s second company (which has since folded into the main company).

I wrote that the year before, Emerald’s car was already packed and ready to leave Portland, but then love intervened and she stayed in town. “As much as I’m the feminist my mother raised me to be, I have to admit, I fell in love,” Emerald explained about the change of heart. “He really brings out a better me, and I started believing in myself and my work more as something worthy of being seen. In this past year I have developed some relationships with dancers that I really enjoy and want to keep working with. I’m still antsy to leave some days, but I love this city too, especially on windy days.”
At the time, Emerald wouldn’t tell me who “he” was, but gradually that became apparent and on Friday night all was revealed. Unbeknown to the audience and company dancers, Emerald and Jonathan Krebs had secretly planned to be married onstage at the Greenwood Theatre at Reed College after the performance. “No wedding! This was it. We had no desire to plan a wedding but figured we could get most of our family and friends to opening night of the show, so that’s why we decided to do it this way,” said Krebs in an email.

“It was a secret from everyone,” he wrote. “The dancers didn’t even know. We had a handful of collaborators who helped get key family and friends into the house, and we let a few friends know who had to fly in from out of town, but really no one knew that it was coming. Our lighting designer James Mapes officiated.”

Sadly I was not at this performance, I went Sunday night. If I had known, I would have been there. It isn’t often that dancers get married on stage, if ever. This was special.

Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence then, that the two dances presented in the program focused on relationships. I can’t help but think that Emerald was subconsciously thinking about getting married and working out her personal relationships while choreographing these dances. Within this context, the dances looked different. But, just because I can see these connections does not mean that Emerald intentionally created this concert around that theme.

The first piece presented by Éowyn Emerald & Dancers on Sunday afternoon, was called I asked of you performed by eight members of the company (Holly Shaw, Josh Murry, Anna Marra, Brent Luebbert, Mari Kai Juras, Jonathan Krebs, Sarah Fuhrman and Joel Walker), danced to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, recomposed by Max Richter.

The second piece in the concert was called Will You Take This Balloon, a collection of eight dances all with their own titles; Ortini, Still: Part, Hexe 1st, Mine/Ours, Will You, Balloon, Take This and Do you?—several group pieces, a trio, but mostly duets even within the group choreography. The music varied, with songs by The Zombies, The Lumineers, Thomas Newman and five songs by alt-J, an indie rock band from Leeds.
The titles suggest a biographical timeline of Krebs and Emerald’s relationship.

In I asked of you, the choreography began with a long slow solo by Shaw, the main character, whom the story followed through various abstract relationships: duets with different partners, trios, large group pieces etc. I found it difficult to understand the implied emotional roller coaster that Shaw was on and why she was on it. Her emotional expressivity was my only clue as to what was going on, and it wasn’t always readable. So the piece didn’t read as a literal representation of relationships.

Eowyn Emerald's "I asked of you"/Photo by David Krebs

Eowyn Emerald’s “I asked of you”/Photo by David Krebs

The female dancers wore flesh-colored capri length tights with lace applique sewn around the backs of the knees wrapping up the thigh and matching lace sports bra tops. In the context of Friday’s wedding, these costumes looks somewhat similar to a wedding dress. The men wore the same tights but with blousy gray muscle t-shirts tucked in at the waist. These costumes were not flattering in that they did nothing to accentuate the beauty of the dancers, sometimes revealing too much, and were quite rumpled by the end of the dance.

The mood and choreography felt formal, with nods to the dance styles of Paul Taylor and Martha Graham with ballet, jazz, and BodyVox influences mixed in. Emerald, Krebs, Shaw, Marra and Luebbert have all danced for BodyVox at some point or another and BodyVox’s quirky, performative, circus like characteristics could be seen throughout. Still, the dancers wore ballet slippers, adding to the formality of the dance.

The interesting floor work reminded me of skimming water bugs, and grand lifts ended in statuesque revolving poses. I felt that the group excelled at quicker movement, and slower movement revealed flaws in technique and less graceful transitions.

I did notice that the dancers seemed very tense. Their eyes were mostly downcast and their energy did not match that of Vivaldi’s. I don’t know if this was a choreographic choice or if it was due to the small space they were performing in. The stage at the Greenwood Theatre is small and not particularly hospitable to dancers who like to move big, especially nine dancers on the stage. These dancers seemed like they could have really moved with abandon, but never did. The sightlines were also not great, and unfortunately the music was so loud at points that I had to cover my ears.

 Dancers Holly Shaw, Éowyn Emerald Barrett performing in Emerald's duet Mine/Ours.

Holly Shaw and Éowyn Emerald performing in Mine/Ours choreographed by Éowyn Emerald. Photo by David Krebs.

Will You Take This Balloon, again explored a myriad of different relationship types but mostly flirty and carefree ones. Emerald, who performed quite a bit in this piece, is a fantastic dancer and always a pleasure to watch: she smiles, is relaxed and is capable of a range of dynamics at all times.

One particular duet that I enjoyed was Balloon, danced by Marra and Luebbert, though the quality of their movement and how they interacted with each other captivated me more than the choreography. They were soft and seamless in their execution and created an inviting intimate space. It was sweet, and it even had a floating quality like a balloon.

In general, the choreography seemed to be metaphoric for the twists and turns that happen in relationships whether romantic ones or platonic. At times the partnering reminded me of those loop ring puzzles that are crisscrossed and twisted and impossible to get out of but somehow you do. Other sections seems to be about sharing, balancing, negotiating and being supported. And others seemed narcissistic and masochistic. The full spectrum of experiences was covered.

It was an earnest concert that had many many beautiful moments, but some editing might have helped—half as long, half as much dancing and half as many dancers on stage would have made a more impactful experience, in my opinion.

A friend of mine turned me onto a famous quote from George Balanchine on the subject of Stravinsky’s score for his ballet, Apollo, that seems fitting for this performance, “It seemed to tell me that I could dare not use everything, and I, too, could eliminate.”

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