Pittsburgh’s dance-centric organization The Blanket lives up to its name as an organization covering a wide array of dance with its latest production, The Christopher Williams Project, October 26-28 at the New Hazlett Theater.
Founded in 2016 by Caitlin Scranton and Matt Pardo, the The Christopher Williams Project is the second for the fledgling organization and is stylistically light years from their first, 2017’s minimalist Lucinda Childs: The Early Works.
Heavily influenced by medieval music, iconography and literature, New York-based modern dance choreographer Christopher Williams’ dance theater works are part religious-Passion-play and part superhero tale, complete with wondrous costuming.
“A lot of literature and imagery from the medieval era I find reads like a comic book,” says Williams.
The Blanket will present excerpts from two of Williams’ evening-length works, the "Bessie" Award-winning Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins (2005) and its companion piece The Golden Legend (2009). Williams’ describes the works as being a collection of dance portraits of saints. “I wanted to make dance pieces where these beautiful saints I have read about and seen in museum pieces come to life in three dimensions.”
The hourlong program — containing partial nudity and depictions of violent scenes that may not be suitable for young audience members — begins with a portrait of Saint Stephen, the first martyr of Christianity from The Golden Legend, danced by Pardo. The remainder of the program are solo portraits of female virgin saints taken from Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins.
The solos are based off the historical lives and, in some cases, the fantastical tales surrounding each saint taken from Jacobus de Voragine’s 1260 text “The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints.” One such tale tells of a Saint Bega, an Irish princess, who sailed away on a turf mound guided by an angelic bracelet.
And while many of the saints portrayed come with larger than life stories, many were gruesomely martyred in these tales. Williams says audiences won’t see literal actions of martyrdom onstage, like someone being ripped open with a meat hook, but rather the dances will convey the emotional aspects of those saints’ demise.
Set to ancient music along with original music by Berlin-based composer Peter Kirn performed live by live by New York-based vocal group Modern Medieval in collaboration with local musicians , the program features a multigenerational cast of 14 mostly Pittsburgh-based performers including Slippery Rock assistant professor Lindsay Fisher and slowdanger’s Anna Thompson. Also making a cameo appearance will be Williams.
And while The Christopher Williams Project couldn’t farther apart in terms of movement and what an evening of work feels like to Lucinda Childs: The Early Works, Pardo says both choreographers share a specificity in their work that challenges the way people view modern dance.