Micaela Gardner has been examining the stone enclosure in Federal Park for over a year, but she’s been seeing the landscape a bit differently than your average visitor: ledges good for a foothold, open spaces to spin and leap, corners and doorways for a good entrance.
Sketchbook in hand, Gardner has been imagining dancers weaving through the space, and it’s not only geographical inspiration that she’s been taking from the historic site. The Federal Dances are inspired by the colonial history of the region, but Gardner says the final product is “less of a narrative and more about gathering and evoking images” that can take the audience “backwards and forwards in time.”
And the imagery is certainly a vivid mix of references and abstractions. The taking and re-taking of the city, the influence of Catholicism, the slave trade and the endless array of battles that characterized the colonial period all play a part in creating a sense of the history.
“Some choreography was also influenced by ghost dancing,” says Gardner, director and choreographer of the dances, who describes the communal, circular movements as feeling the most natural upon entering the park: “It’s a sorrowful reliving and honoring of traditions and of atrocities.” For obvious reasons, it’s often the history, or the suggestion of history, that endows the movements with poignancy, but Gardner says the dance is “less about a story and more about human beings.”
The humans doing the dancing, however, look more like disembodied spirits. In sheer layers and veils, they are well paired with the surreal, eerie music composed for the dance by local musician Daniel Murphy. The sounds are classical and dark with some electronic and dissonant elements; Gardner says they mesh well with the “somewhat gothic” setting. Listening to an excerpt, the music struck me as a strange intersection between a soothing lullaby, seductive dance and horror soundtrack.
The dancers, Sarah Ashkin, Ariel Johnson, Mikyla Hutwohl, Spencer Toll, Whitney Jones, Sophia Rog and Gardner herself, will begin at South Federal Place and Washington Avenue and traverse the park, concluding at the gate on Paseo de Peralta. She wants the chance for people to “stumble upon” the piece and enjoy the accidental nature of free public art, which “makes the experience more a part of our local color.” The project is a part of the New Mexico Dance Coalition, and Gardner has been producing site works for New Mexico School for the Arts’ dance department on a regular basis, so there is certainly a chance to experience the flavor of local dance.
Admittedly, interpretive dance can be a bit of an acquired taste, since it requires a healthy dose of acceptance rather than analytical stubbornness (since the logical part of the brain tends to get stuck on, “What in the hell did I just see?”) and of course, despite a lot of these feelings being ineffable, an attempt is being made to eff them nonetheless. “I don’t want to tell a story,” Gardner says, “in our history it feels like I’d be imposing a story in a pretentious way, but I want there to be a sensitivity to the echoes of events that occurred in the past, almost the attitude of a medium or channeler. We need to let the feelings come even as we don’t understand them.”
6:30 pm Friday and Saturday, June 27-28; 2 pm Sunday June 29. Free
Federal Park, S Federal Place and Washington Street