Elberta’s own choreographer, Gretchen Eichberger, premieres her dance tribute to Gwen Frostic, Chaotic Harmony, next Saturday and Sunday at the CSA Meeting House.
A collaboration with the writer Anne-Marie Oomen and the musical trio Breathe Owl Breathe, as well as four dancers and three speakers, the piece integrates spoken word poetry adapted from Frostic’s books, recordings made in the shop at Gwen Frostic Prints and on the nature preserve that surrounds it, and an original score by Breathe Owl Breathe. The sculptor Bill Allen created artwork for the set.
Gwen Frostic was a pillar of culture and business in our area, and achieved international fame with her hand-carved wood block prints depicting native flora and fauna. The gracefulness of her printed lines, the subtle shifts in color and texture in her imagery, seem so ripe for celebration in music and dance that it’s a bit astonishing to think no one’s done it before. But it’s also hard to imagine a better group to do it than Eichberger and her team, all of whom have been artistically inspired by Frostic’s work.
A sneak preview of the performance was held June 12 at the Jean Parsons Art Center, where much of the work, which Eichberger and co. developed over nearly a year, came to fruition. A selection was staged again at LORE, the fantastic collage of performances and visual art by local women held June 17 at the Mills House.
“We like to think we’ve built something essential and instrumental from what Frostic did,” said Anne-Marie Oomen during remarks after the June 12 preview. The selections that night included “The Air Is Moving,” and “Capricious,” the latter evoking the moment when Frostic discovered her artistic gift, through which she may have found release from her physical limitations. The spare and elegant costuming and props heighten the symbolic resonance of each element—a bowl of water, a swaying beech bough borne by a dancer, and a large, sawed-off tree stump, which becomes a literal and figurative platform on which Gwen rises, her hands taking flight in graceful movement.
In addition to directing Martha Graham’s American Document last year, Eichberger is the founder of the Northwest Michigan Folklife Center. Eichberger has said the movement in the piece is influenced by wabi-sabi and butoh dance traditions; but the subject matter and execution of this work could not be more Benco, reflecting the ensemble’s great romance with our region, something Frostic shared. “In this age of environmental threat, her words take on new resonance. In this age of simplified vocabulary, her diction holds a unique literary value. In this age when we could so easily forget the women who have made a difference aesthetically and culturally in our own region, Gwen is a model we need to rediscover,” Oomen has said of Frostic.
Greg and Kim Forshee, proprietors of Gwen Frostic Prints, donated the posters, invitations, and other printed materials for the performances. The work is sponsored by and the nonprofit ISLAND (Institute of Sustainable Living, Art and Design).
Performances will be held Saturday, August 27 at 7 pm, and Sunday, August 28 at 3 pm, at the Congregational Summer Assembly Meeting House, 2128 Pilgrim Hwy, Frankfort. Admission is free; donations are encouraged and greatly appreciated.—Emily Votruba
Read the Alert’s coverage of the making of Chaotic Harmony here.