Water Relics, a movement performance by Megan Thompson and Jenifer Alonzo, draws its inspiration from Greek mythology. When Prometheus warns Pyrrha and Deucalion that Zeus intends to send a great flood to destroy the Earth, they provision a chest containing all the knowledge that humanity will need after the waters recede.
Water Relics envision the Chrysler Museum as the couple’s ark. Directors Thompson and Alonzo add another layer to the myth, imagining a world where Pyrrha and Deucalion’s people do not die in the flood, but instead evolve to live underwater. The Museum audience follows the evolving ancient Greeks from Huber Court to the Hofheimer Porcelain Galleries to the Kaufman Theater—progressing from the shallows to the deep—becoming immersed in their underwater world.
We gathered insight from Thompson and Alonzo.
How would you describe to somebody your new work, Water Relics?
Jenifer and Megan: Water Relics imagines a world where humans adapt to living under water. It embraces the calm, gradual nature of transformation. Human statues which reference both ancient Greek art and Contemporary Performance Art change over the course of 90 minutes into bio-luminescent beings – utterly compelling in their otherness. It’s beautiful to watch the transformation. The more we, the audience, watches, the more we slow down. The more we slow down the more we, too, can transform.
Where does the story come from?
We were inspired by an ancient Greek myth. But we were also inspired by the comedic playwright Aristophanes’ philosophy of the “Happy Idea.” Aristophanes used each of his plays to propose a happy idea to solve problems of his society. In Lysistrata, the women stopped a senseless war by refusing to sleep with their husbands. In Birds, the problem of a misguided legislature and general corruption is solved by the creation of a new city in the sky among the birds. Water Relics proposes that we can adapt to the problem of Sea level Rise through the processes of evolution.
How does space at the Chrysler affect this performance?
The performers’ movement is influenced by the art and architecture around them. The formal nature of the moving statues reflects the formal architectural principles in Huber court. Then as the performance moves into other parts of the museum, audience members will see performers mirroring sculptures and responding to the other relics and artifacts in the galleries at the Chrysler.
How does time affect this artwork?
This piece is about slowing down time. The performers move very, very slowly. Audience members will find themselves slowing down as well. This aspect of the piece allows the audience to notice details that they might fly by otherwise. We hope that this aspect of slowing down will help even visitors familiar with the museum to see new aspects of the art on display.
How did this partnership with theater and dance start?
Jenifer: My theatre background is in theatre forms that do not acknowledge a line between theatre and dance. My artistic influences are as much movers as actors. I have been interested in working with Megan since her arrival in Norfolk – We started envisioning doing something together more than three years ago. Luckily, the opportunity to work together presented itself in 2015 and again this year. (Megan: I loved your “rice piece” but I am not sure what it was called…)
Megan: Like Jenifer, I had been interested in working together since my arrival in Norfolk. I really enjoy working collaboratively. I feel it challenges me by making me look at my approaches to choreography, staging, directing, etc., from a different perspective. Working together in 2015 and again this year has been very rewarding. (Jenifer, the piece was called “Rice Circle” – thank you!)
Who is performing in this work at the Chrysler?
There are six performers in Water Relics. Elijah Motley, Ariel Romage and Darien Unruh are currently Dance majors at ODU, Abigail Irizarry and Lauren Kidd are recent graduates of ODU and Katie Iacono is an Adjunct Professor in Dance at ODU.
How did this work evolve over time?
We have been talking about Sea Level Rise and evolution since 2012. We have 100s of ideas. We got to explore some of those ideas in 2015 when we worked in the Goode Theatre at ODU. We are getting to explore different ideas this time: those ideas are connected to the notion that a museum is an ark of knowledge and technology that we set aside for future generations – and that as our cultures change the meaning of the knowledge and technology – the art- within the museum also changes.
What would we store if we could for the future generations?
Jenifer: We need to store ways to make meaning and beauty. We need to store the technologies of peace and getting along. It’s funny, because I work in a form that is ephemeral – that is purposely of the moment and not stored for future generations. So maybe what I would store really is knowledge. How to bring a story alive. How to exercise the technology of creativity. How to inspire others.
Megan: Wouldn’t it be great if we could store/share an experience? I think all artists do that in some way. But like Jenifer, I work in an ephemeral art. One of the reasons that I am so interested and drawn to an ephemeral medium is that the audience, space and performers all play a role in the performance. Both audience members and performers share an experience at the same time. There is human connection in the present moment.
If there were a need to, what divine device would allow us to preserve our technology?
Jenifer: I actually think museums and libraries are these devices. Theatres too – where we pass knowledge down from one person to another and that knowledge is transformed by the individuals receiving it.
As a performance with aspects of theater, what can we expect to see as far as sets and costumes?
The set is The Chrysler Museum. The costumes showcase the human form but also include textured elements such as head wraps, weathered tunics and LED lights that create bio-luminescence. These additions to the costumes help highlight the performers’ evolution to something non-human. Another important element of the performance is the music. Composed by Benjamin Garner, the music is key to helping the audience slow down, to relax, and enjoy our piece.
Could you describe the movements in the performance?
To a general audience, the movements in Water Relics will look like a very slow dance or silent theater. There is almost a meditative quality to the movements and overall performance. Also, because we have envisioned these “relics” as having evolved to live underwater, there is a water-like quality to their movement. Specifically, their fingers and toes sometimes move like underwater plants and their slowness could be attributed in part to the fact that they are moving against the resistance of water.
No doubt there will be many young artists attending and participating in your performance. What advice do you have for these new artists?
Jenifer: Be open to everything. Don’t assume that you know everything about your art. Go to the art library and pull random books off the shelf and get inspired. Listen to music you hate. Go out of your way to see the weirdest stuff you can. You’ll see stuff you love and stuff you hate. The key is to create a process where you constantly push yourself as an audience member – that way you can also push yourself beyond boundaries as an artist. Work hard on your technique. Technique is your foundation. Don’t let yourself off the hook. You might be too tired to make something, but you gotta make it anyway.
Megan: Yes, go see art! Exposure to other work (both in your medium and other mediums) will not only inspire and excite you, but it will also provide a more informed context for the work you make. I also agree that technique is important, but I believe many people’s definition of technique could stand to be more broad and inclusive. Let your technique provide you with more ways to express yourself but don’t let the “rules” of technique hinder you. To me technique is a method of doing something, so figure out what you want to do and then develop the best method to do that.
The performance takes place Feb 13, 2016 from 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM. For more info, click here.