Sweet Briar graduate Betty Skeen, Class of 2007, was present for the creation of “Oashisu,” one of the pieces PEARSONWIDRIG DANCETHEATER will present at the College on Friday, April 12. The performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Murchison Lane Auditorium at Babcock Fine Arts Center.
Artistic directors Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig had invited Skeen to the company’s annual June residency in Ithaca, N.Y., where “Oashisu,” was developed. Like most PEARSONWIDRIG works, the whole cast collaborated on the choreography. It is a contemplative piece, born of a time when several of the company members were experiencing significant events in their lives.
According to the description, “The Japanese concepts of ‘ma’ (a creative space in which the essence of artistic relationships are made tangible) and ‘kansha’ (simultaneous gratitude and appreciation) provided the framework for this work of tectonic shifts, seismic surprises and deep calm.”
When Skeen joined the company in Ithaca, she had just finished her Master of Fine Arts at the University of Maryland. That’s where she caught the attention of Pearson and Widrig, who were recently appointed full-time associate professors as she was completing the program in 2010.
“I was just blown away,” Pearson says of Skeen’s work as both a dancer and choreographer. “This is exactly the kind of art I long to see and rarely do.”
Pearson added that she and Widrig are excited about the Sweet Briar visit, which will include teaching a master class. The school has acquired a kind of “mythic significance” at UMD because of Skeen, she says.
“We think of Sweet Briar as an oasis of the next generation of feminist creativity.”
Skeen showed star potential at Sweet Briar, too. She earned recognition in a regional dance competition and was singled out in a Washington Post review for a performance in D.C. with Joy of Motion Dance Center. These days, Skeen lives and works in New York City. She performs, dances, writes and creates her own work when she can, she says.
She also collaborates on and off with PEARSONWIDRIG and is a guest choreographer at UMD this semester — a place Skeen recalls fondly from “three wonderful, uninterrupted years of watching, making and dreaming about dance.” She is happy for the opportunity to get back in the studio with Pearson and Widrig at UMD.
“They are some of the most creative, loving and intelligent people I have ever worked with,” she says. “Their creative process is incredibly open and at the same time very specific. It is challenging and a pure joy.”
Skeen wasn’t involved in creating the second performance on the Sweet Briar bill, a lighthearted spoken-word piece called “Take Me With You.” It’s written for three men in heels, plus a chorus of “golden people,” who will be performed by Sweet Briar dancers, Pearson says. It is rich in humor while asking profound questions, exploring impending loss and longing for the beloved. There is a sense of letting go of what you are not, she says.
“And then there’s the blue shark, which may carry different Rorschachs of interpretation.”
PEARSONWIDRIG’s works are known internationally for being funny, poignant and original.
If one is tempted to think “Take Me With You” is about men in drag, however, Pearson says not so fast.
“Something inside me just said ‘men in heels,’ ” she explains.
Tickets for the show go on sale April 8. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, $5 for students, and free for children younger than 12 and for members of the Sweet Briar community. To reserve tickets, call the box office at (434) 381-6120 or email [email protected]. To order by credit card, visit www.lynchburgtickets.com.
Category: Performing Arts