“it came to me in a dream”
by Lena Richardson
“It came to me in a dream,” choreographer Pat Graney told On the Boards Managing Director Sara Wilke with a chuckle. She was describing how she conceived the original idea for Faith, which premiered in 1991. Faith is the first piece in a three-work triptych focusing on women’s lives and embodied experience that includes Sleep (1995) and Tattoo (2001).
Graney’s zany and visionary dreaming has always undergirded her choreography and infuses the triptych. In the reverie that inspired Faith, Graney was a space-age anthropologist: “I have on a white space suit with a white hat and we are actually rappelling down these buildings, me and these two bearded white guys.” In her dream excavation, Graney comes upon a huge wire sculpture:
“I realize that the sculpture is made out of thousands of pieces of dishes and dirt and books and clothing. It’s like ‘this is someone’s life, this is the culture’s life’…what I sort of surmised in the dream, was that the culture had died and what they left behind was a symbol for faith.”
Faith was created through a group process with an all-female cast, influenced by studies of the Caravaggio paintings of Graney’s Catholic childhood. Graney describes the visual nature of her process, informed by not-knowing:
“You make something. You think, ‘That’s going to be the end.’ But of course, if you knew what the end was, you wouldn’t make the piece. You have to go on this kind of journey. So…I thought, ‘Let’s do the Caravaggio piece with no clothes on. Let’s see what that looks like.’”
In the end, Faith emerged as playful, primal exploration of women’s sexuality and power and was received to great acclaim in its premiere at On the Boards.
The second piece in the triptych, Sleep: Making Peace with the Angels, was based in investigations of rites of passage in women’s lives, along with exploring sleep and its relationship with death. The last piece, Tattoo, examines genetic memory and markings, exploring ancient tattoos on women’s bodies while playing with a 1940s aesthetic.
Graney’s relationship with On the Boards has been central to the evolution of her choreography, with NPN support helping to tour all three works in the triptych. Graney noted:
“On the Boards [was] instrumental in…my whole development as an artist….Not only did they support the development of [my] work through NPN, but they brought in other NPN artists that really exposed people in Seattle to a really great caliber of pretty wacky, untraditional work.”
In looking forward to the reconstruction, On the Boards Managing Director Wilke said, “I’m just personally excited that we’re doing this project….because I’ve never seen these works, but I’ve heard about them since the day I moved to Seattle.“
The recreation of Faith, Sleep and Tattoo allows longtime Graney audiences to re-experience the triptych in one night. It also offers new audiences — including young artists — the chance to witness the works for the first time. In discussing the possibility of reconstruction, a Graney Company board member pointed out the potential impact these works might have on her own partner, a young choreographer. She told Graney, “She doesn’t know these works, and her whole generation doesn’t know these works, and I think they should see them.”
Graney acknowledges, “It’s a neat kind of cycle of art life that’s continuing.”