Editor's note: The Bates Dance Festival will present two performances of "UN/Stable Landscape," featuring interactions between dancers, riders and horses, on Aug. 6-7 at Chance Encounter Farm in Pownal. Freelancer Jim Glenn Thatcher recently watched a rehearsal of the evolving collaboration between JoAnna Mendl Shaw's Equus Projects and Carl Fink's Black Label Movement. Here are some of his impressions.
POWNAL — It’s a beautiful afternoon in late July, and I’m sitting in the shade of a small pear tree, looking out over open farmland bordered on the far side by oaks and pines. A white-fenced paddock is in the near foreground, where a young woman is patiently, physically drawing three lively bay horses toward her.
The hayfield beyond the paddock slopes gently downward toward a small circular corral before rising again toward the woods. As I look, more than a dozen males and females, separated widely apart, rise over the crest of the field and start downward across it. They advance slowly, deliberately, cautiously as though in some collective purpose, seeming almost tribal in that scattered unity.
Suddenly a few of them stop, bend to the ground and begin to pull up clumps of grass. Then they all do it, and there is something in the way they pull those clumps — a certain jerk of the wrist exercised by them all — that reminds me exactly of the motions of a horse eating grass.
I am no longer looking at a tribe, but — and I say this in amazement, not disdain — a human herd.
Soon the “grazing” ceases and they all become tribal again, coming together to take the hay they’ve gathered and form it into a long serpentine line winding down the slope toward that small corral at its bottom. There, two more human figures are circling two white ponies at a regular, almost hypnotic, pace.
The rest of the tribe comes down to gather around them, each individual suddenly becoming an expressive body in motion, by turns aggressive, serene, tender, reverent, adoring.
All this took less than one of the five hours I spent at Chance Encounter Farm watching an experimental rehearsal of "UN/Stable Landscape," a collaboration between JoAnna Mendl Shaw’s Equus Project and Carl Flink’s Black Label Movement.
The two dance troupes come together to celebrate horse and human, merging the artistry of dance with the athletics of equestrianism.
The rehearsal I witnessed will continue to evolve over the days leading up to showtime. This is how "UN/stable Landscape" is done wherever the troupes perform, and for two good reasons: the landscape is always new and the horses are local and, thus, have to be slowly acclimated to both the dancers and the entirely new circumstances they are put; and the dancers continually adjust their choreography and movements — idea by idea, moment by moment, with those new animals and their landscape.
The entire process is a combination of horse and human synergy.
The highly talented and creative dancers of both troupes like to see themselves as “members of a herd” — their thinking runs in terms of the spontaneity, interaction and curiosity that they see in the horses.
This has to be seen to be grasped, and by this coming weekend their collaboration will have evolved into a performance that I, for one, will not miss.
Jim Glenn Thatcher is a poet and writer who lives in Yarmouth and often writes about nature and the arts.
Go and do
WHAT: “UN/Stable Landscape," a performance with dancers, horses and riders
WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 6-7
WHERE: Chance Encounter Farm, 118 Fickett Road, Pownal
TICKETS: $10, purchased at the door only
MORE INFO: www.dancingwithhorses.org/