For choreographer Deborah Abel, healing occurs when “we step out of the persona that we're wearing in this lifetime and journey to the deepest part of ourselves.” She and the nine dancers of her Deborah Abel Dance Company attempt to portray that mystical quest of self-discovery with “The Wild Divine,” performed at the Tsai Performance Center over the weekend with the eight accomplished musicians of Sweet Rasa, led by the score’s composer, Lee Perlman.
Beautifully danced and based on the true story of a friend who died in her 40s from ALS, the work is thoughtfully structured, framed on both ends by a gentle “Women’s Healing Circle.” Three women surround protagonist Wendy Lawson, sometimes physically supporting, cradling, embracing, other times taking turns siphoning off her pain and casting it away with thrusting limbs. When they lead her to lie down on a blanket, they flail and twirl like witches over a cauldron, as if to pull the sickness from her body.
As the scene darkens and hand-held lights dance like shooting stars, Abel emerges on a raised platform underneath the branch of a crystal-adorned tree. Identified as Midwife, she seems a kind of spiritual guide, helping Lawson remove a layer of her red dress, a metaphorical letting go. As one of the musicians sings, “I am,” Lawson is led into a lovely, golden-lit quartet filled with movement of liquid flow and lush exchanges of weight through deep lunges and soft curls. Here Lawson takes agency in her fate, sparking movements with beckoning arms or the nudge of a foot.
Abel calls her aesthetic Bhakti Modern, which unfolds from the ebb and flow of breath. Gorgeous, inventive partnering includes soaring dives, striking angular shapes, and lifts that cartwheel legs end over end. But while full group circle dances recall the power of ritual, the overly long middle section isn’t persuasive in evoking the inner transformation the loose narrative suggests. Fueled by lots of percussion, with the women in tattered green and the men bare-chested, wearing only loincloths, the jungle-like impression is perhaps the “wild” the title implies. However, it’s repetitive choreographically and not particularly dreamlike or visionary conceptually. Projection effects (MIT’s Alisha Panjwani and her students) contribute eye-catching backdrops of birds flying, constellations, a waterfall.
The final tableau, with Lawson back in the healing circle, suggests not just letting go, but also acceptance, a sweet and gentle farewell.
Deborah Abel Dance Company
“The Wild Divine”
At Tsai Performance Center, Saturday night
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.