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"Thanatopsis" is the result of a collaboration
among six female artists, representing the fields of dance, sound, conceptual,
and visual arts. Conceived by Charlie Sartwelle and Anne Skupin, "Thanatopsis"
unites the choreography of Sue Schroeder, the music collage of Sonja Zarek,
the masks of Patricia Jane Danko, and the photographic installation of Gail
Siptak to prove that women can indeed make meaningful art that is not centered
on vaginal imagery. The piece is about the threat of nuclear war, and more;
it directly addresses the inhumanity that members of the human race perpetrate
on each other. In the process of rebirth to change those inhumane ways,
represented by the character of a Phoenix, the creators of "Thanatopsis"
emerge with a new and unsettling mythology.
While "Thanatopsis" is performed by four professional dancers, the
stage is filled with ordinary people who have volunteered to take part. All
masked, they enter the performance area in a glacial, trance-like pace as
if denied of their wits, to the eerie background of Zarek's taped music collage.
They gradually collapse to the floor in a "die-in." Enter the dog spirits
of the Underworld to claim the collapsed figures. Just as humanity's psyche
seems to have no escape from the hounding, the Phoenix, bird of eternal life,
appears in a transcendent dance to lead the dog spirits into a positive
relationship with humanity. A beautiful chalking ritual follows, with soft
dummies left in place of the human bodies which had previously littered the
floor, to symbolize the metamorphosis. The pattern of behaving in an automatic,
unconscious manner has been recognized, an old cycle can die, and the rebirth
of expanded consciousness is possible.
removed and hung on columns.
Returning to the arena, the phoenix and the dogs
dance together. The positive relationship symbolized by the dance leads to
a new integration of destructive and creative forces: wholeness. Lights dim
to darkness then lift, leaving the installation of the stunning, stylized
masks on the empty stage as nostalgic symbol of both our vast capabilities
for betterment of ourselves and our capability for failure when we allow
our unthinking, unfeeling, selfish selves to dominate.
"Thanatopsis" , by Carol Neuberger, Houston on Stage, June 1983;
"Art Notes" , The Houston Post, April 14, 1983;
"Thanatopsis....A Dance/Performance/Installation" , The Atlanta Constitution,
November 1, 1986;
"Several Dancers Core addresses nuclear war" , The Atlanta Journal,
November 5, 1986 .
"Thanatopsis" was created and
performed with assistance from :
The University of Houston;
Shell Foundation for the Performing Arts; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,
J. Arc and Company, Atlanta, Georgia;
Living Travel Corporation, Atlanta, Georgia;
and Several Dancers Core, Decatur, Georgia.
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