Hunter Art Alive! event inspired by monumental work
A symphony by Philip Glass played as I walked into the theater. Mercy Junction is the creative space that director/producer Kayla Mae Anderson is using to rehearse for her upcoming production at the Hunter Museum. Four women (Hannah Shadrick, Megan Hollenbeck, Hayden Crihfield and Madeleine Young) were walking slowly in a circle, hunched over, cradling invisible babies, their faces expressionless, solemn, concentrating.
They slowly released their postures and extended their arms toward the ground, still slowly circling. Putting their hands on their hips, they began to look up and around, as if they were taking stock and assessing. They began to move more quickly—then suddenly their movements exploded into a chaotic frenzy. They were bouncing around the room, stomping, running, jumping, swiping at the air as if trying to catch something.
Then they stopped; breathing heavily, they were still. Separating into two pairs, they put their hands on one another’s shoulders and looked at each other, then held hands as if sharing strength and acknowledgment.
The piece is a dance interpretation of Helen Frankenthaler’s monumental abstract canvas “Around the Clock with Red.” The performance will be presented at the Hunter on Thursday, Sept. 10 at 6 p.m. as an Art Alive! event.
I spoke with Anderson about her work and this piece.
The Pulse: Who are some of your influences?
Kayla Mae Anderson: Four years ago, Jane Beachy founded this thing called Salonathon. They have it at a place called Beauty Bar every Monday night in Chicago. It’s a bar with a stage area, an open environment with a good mix of established artists who are performing music, theater, dance, and making live paintings. Out of that, she has started to branch out and do a lot of collaborative grassroots work.
My teacher from Columbia College, Kimberly Senior, taught me how to communicate clearly and how to have a deep understanding of what I’m doing. When you’re directing or creating something, you have to get a sense of what it is before you can communicate it to performers and get other people involved. She taught me to see the big picture.
Ann Law, co-owner of Barking Legs Theater, has a deep history in dance. She was a dancer in New York City before coming to Chattanooga, and she has this huge wealth of experience. She knows how to approach every person in any situation with an open heart, and can collaborate with just about anybody.
TP: What do you think about the theater scene in Chattanooga?
KMA: It’s smaller and less competitive than Chicago’s theater scene. The community is really close. Chattanooga has a small-town feel, where everyone knows everybody and they are all helping each other out. There are a few theater companies who are doing experimental stuff. I think that as more artists come to the city and more energy is put into the arts, the scene is becoming more cutting-edge and innovative, and people are starting to try new things.
TP: Any observations about the state of the arts in Chattanooga?
KMA: It’s at a tipping point. Being the Gig City has brought a lot of start-ups, attention, and energy to the city, and with that an artistic boom. Chattanooga is known for sculpture; it has the Hunter Museum, and a lot of really great resources and places to take in art.
As far as the performing arts, I think that there’s still a lot of ground to be covered, and there is a lot of opportunity just starting to take root. I would like to see more things that challenge people and expand their horizons.
I want to see more activity in the underground and alternative scene, where people are fusing their respective mediums; using dance and theater mechanisms to tell a story, then collaborating with musicians, artists, and poets. I would like for Chattanooga to become an arts-and-innovation hub.
TP: What can you tell us about your upcoming performance at the Hunter Museum?
KMA: The Hunter has never done anything like this before. It’s a collaboration with Rachel White, who is a curator at the museum. It will be interactive, a live performance that is a direct response to Frankenthaler’s painting. We will take an inventory of the mood of the painting. It is about the archetypes involving women traditionally and now.
Each phase of the performance, Crone, Mother, and Maiden, explores these roles in folklore and how they are the same and different in society today.