Past Lives involves a lot of reflecting on the past—returning to crafted dances with the might of muscle memory and the persistent questioning of what has come to pass, how things might have been different and how things might be better. “A lot of these pieces are looking back and reflecting on the life you've lived,” Jacqueline García the primary choreographer, artistic director and founder of J. García Dance Company explained about the evening-length performance of repertory modern dance she has decided to call Past Lives. “In our lives we often find ourselves saying, 'If only I had done this, or if only that hadn't happened, if only I had made this decision instead of that one'—if only, right?”
García herself is familiar with that feeling. After founding J. García Dance Company early-on in 2015, she was swept up in creating work and organizing events with SHIFT| DANCE, which she co-founded alongside lisa nevada and Kelsey Paschich. “SHIFT really had to take the front seat for awhile,” García explained—as the collective took off, there was less time to work with the core group of dancers—originally eight or nine others—who formed the foundation of her company. All too quickly, three years had passed since J. García Dance Company had their own full night of performance. “I really wanted to prioritize this for my company,” she said. “I think it’s important for the longevity of the group to have this evening.” And so, Past Lives came together—an evening-long performance of six pieces created over the past three years now returning to the stage, this time at the North Fourth Arts Center (4904 Fourth Street NW) on Friday, Aug. 3 from 8 to 9:30pm.
The concept of mulling over the past and wondering what might have been are not just features of most of our lives, but come into focus through movement in many of these works, perhaps most strongly in one titled “The Slip of If.” “I think that piece may be a good metaphor for the larger trajectory of the company,” García proposed as we talked over tea. Because here's where the piece lands—“at some point, all these decisions, the 'what if's,' could be like a veil that you shed in a way, like when you're looking back at your life, you reconcile with this and instead think—where do I go from here?”
Each of the pieces presented here are as rich in metaphor as “The Slip of If.” Each move and gesture packed with thought and talent, choreographed by García and executed by dancers Ana Lopes Aréchiga, Kaitlin Innis, Elyse Fahey, Madrone Matysiak, Dalila Baied, Julianna Massa, Davonna Batt and García herself, along with French actress Isabelle Kessler. García described Past Lives as “a thoughtful collection of six distinctive dance works representing the stylistic range of our repertory.” She went on to detail the contents and inspirations of the pieces—which do indeed illustrate range. “There's very different intention, and even choreographic methods and modes of process to how we created these. They're not all dark, brooding works, there are very beautiful, lyrical pieces and … somewhat cerebral and challenging ones.”
Since these pieces have been performed by the company before, returning to them has allowed each choreography to evolve. There's the very real matter of the ways in which the dancers’ bodies have changed over the last three years, for example, but there's also a chance to “deepen into things,” and allow for “new things to be revealed,” whether that's technical execution or rediscovering why the impetus for the choreography or why each artist was compelled to take part in the dance. “A lot of the work I have been doing with the dancers,” García said, “is asking them to remember the impulse. Like what was the motivation for the move? Really investigating the why. … This is really a fresh opportunity to come back to the root of something important and to dig deeper.”
That generates more opportunities for resonance in all of García's pieces, which includes pieces of dance theater—like the opening piece, “Loneliness and the Empty Chair,” which is performed by a team of dancers and actress Isabelle Kessler. “It was inspired by aging,” García explained. “There's two chairs, a person seated in one of them, and an ensemble of dancers. It holds a more theatrical space.” This approach—what is both very dance-centric as well as theatrical—speaks to concepts that García enjoys working with as a creator. “I don't always move people in the direction that they think it's going to go. … I like to try to give people enough of an idea to hold on to, and then really let the audience bring themselves to it.”
That is really García's highest aspiration for the work—that audience members might find space within the performance to think more deeply, or explore their own experience as the movements unfold in front of them. “Sometimes it’s just a feeling of recognition,” she explained, “and sometimes it's the act of holding space together and having a shared experience. … or [saying] I value this art, or I want to show my support of female entrepreneurial choreographers, or aspiring dancers, I want to be a part of this.” When audience members can look at the work, and let their own values and life experiences play out in the choreography, interpreting it and assigning their own unique meanings, “that's what makes it real,” García said, adding, “that's what is really beautiful about dance, it allows for the unknown to be explored.”
Find tickets for Past Lives at jgarciadance.com or show up early and purchase them at the door.