Two women dancers, Alana Rancourt Phinney and Willow Wonder, are performing their latest work, “Safe House,” at Phantom Theater on Monday and Tuesday nights. A “metaphor for a safe place to play,” they offer a space where “we explore what happens when two people show up, give over and have faith” -- which is to say they commit to the art of improvisation providing a spirit of spontaneity as well as a level of risk in how their performance comes to life. Through this process, they are using movement as their primary language. Though the result is of the moment, it requires highly trained performers to pull it off.
Phinney holds an MFA in dance from Smith College and is the founder of Park Dancing, a community dance project. She believes that when “we move together, we build community.” Wonder, who holds a BFA in modern dance performance from SUNY Purchase, has been dancing, choreographing and teaching dance in Vermont for 20 years. The two artists met shortly after Phinney’s family relocated to Montpelier in 2016 from the Philadelphia area, and they began dancing together in the years that followed in Hannah Dennison’s The Quarry Project.
Their mutual interest in the performance of improvisation sparked the development of Safe House, which began late 2019. In February 2020, they performed this as a work-in-progress, and then after the lockdown, they pushed on and resumed rehearsals, in a pod and wearing masks, developing the work for well over a year. During this time, they sunk even deeper into the studies of entrainment, the importance of acknowledging bodies moving in space as an acknowledgement of our humanity, and the forms (or lack of) in the work of The Grand Union, a band-like troupe of dancers known for their work in “creating something out of nothing” in the early 70s, as well as the work of John Cage and use of aural landscapes. (Wendy Perron, The Grand Union.)
In the spring of 2021, the dance studio opened back up, and they decided to develop and offer a workshop in improvisation to share the good word, gathering community, not necessarily to learn airtight construction of moves, but to use movement as a primary language. They ran two well-attended workshops, confirming that they were not alone in their interest in discovering what stories might be told if we let our bodies tell them.
They are thrilled to share “Safe House” at last in a live performance at the Edgcomb Barn of Phantom Theater.
“Safe House” is supported in part by the Vermont Arts Council, the Vermont Community Foundation and generous contributions from Higher Ground and Vermont Burlesque.
“Safe House” opens Monday, August 30, and runs two nights at Phantom Theater in Warren, located at the corner of Dump Road and Airport Road. Performances are at 8 p.m. and tickets are by donation and offered on a first-come, first served basis. Masks are required. Go to phantomtheater.org for directions and more information.