NEWPORT, R.I. — Some of us have never forgotten the image of people falling out of the Twin Towers on 9/11. And even more of us have imagined, over and over, what it was like for the people trapped inside the buildings.
Remembering what we saw, envisioning what they saw, embodying the dreams of survivors — all of that and much more comes forth in the beautiful and incredibly moving multimedia dance work, “La Palomba/Ascending,” presented by Island Moving Company, Newport, Oct. 15 and 16. The piece was conceived and choreographed by Artistic Director Miki Ohlsen and Associate Artistic Director Danielle Genest, in collaboration with Simona De Tullio, of Breathing Art Company, in Bari, Italy, with whom IMC has worked for the past four years.
Island Moving Company is known for its outdoor performances, including the lawns of the Newport mansions as well as the tunnels inside Fort Adams. So a visit to La Palomba Sculpture Park, created inside an abandoned quarry, with some pieces of the 9/11 rubble by Antonio Paradiso, spurred Ohlsen and her team to set a dance piece there (presented in September) and then to bring it home to Newport, on an outdoor stage at the Great Friends Meeting House.
“La Palomba” has eight scenes, with evocative titles and epigraphs, starting with “Unforeseen,” continuing through “Frantic Search” and “Collective Sorrow,” and ending with “Souls Transcending.” But it is neither a close narrative nor a strictly religious synthesis of its themes.
It is however, a brilliant example of tragedy transformed into art. The dancers’ movements tug at our memories — of shattered and tilted buildings as well as leaning and shattered people, holding on to one another, lifting one another up, seeking support from one body to another, even just the grasp of one hand reaching for the outstretched arm or leg of another person.
In the opening scene, the dancers also seem to be seeking escape: pushing the air out in front of them, running around each other, kicking out, looking one direction, then another, sometimes crouched with one arm on a knee, then another arm stretched overhead.
Yet the movement never becomes melodramatic. The dancers, in white bicycle-length shorts and sleeveless tops, are seamlessly flowing, in and around one another, with here a dancer lifted up above the throng and there a dancer rolling over a partner’s back, here a one-handed cartwheel and there a stunning leap.
And between those sequences are quieter ones, such as in “Between Two Worlds.” This begins and ends with five bodies heaped in a corner. Each is pulled to his or her feet to dance with one other and then gently replaced in the motionless configuration.
Within that scene is the heart-wrenching pas de deux by Katie Moorhead and Gregory Tyndall, to music by Max Richter, that is not only the denouement of that scene but, in a way, of the piece as a whole. There’s been a build-up from the shock of the event to an urgent sense of disbelief about who was in the crushed Towers to this point of meeting death straight on, beginning to accept the reality of it and leaving a loved one behind.
Interspersed with the in-person dancers are film sequences within the 400-feet-deep tuff quarry. Many of the sculptures have doves outlined in their rusted metal. In one of the last film scenes, the dancers are staring across a gulf to persons dressed in long-sleeved white shirts and long white pants, part of “The Lost” scene in the dance.
And in the very last scene, there is a film of quick close-ups of the dancers’ faces, reminding us of each of the living human beings within this story of crashing airplanes and thundering metal. Then the whole company comes toward the front of the stage, lined up in the golden glow of the side-lighting (which has been so effective all along, by Stephen Petrilli), doing a unison movement of arms reaching skyward, legs moving back and forth. It was an unforgettable moment, as the epigraph describes it, of acceptance, peace and hope.
Presented by Island Moving Company. At the Outdoor Stage at The Great Friends Meeting House, 21 Farewell St., Newport, R.I. Remaining performances: Oct. 15, 16. Tickets $35-$45, 401-847-4470, islandmovingco.org/