Theater And Dance Shaking Things Up

At first it looks like an odd coupling: Martha Clarke, the doyenne of evocative dance-theatre, and Alfred Uhry, the straight-ahead storyteller of works such as Driving Miss Daisy and Last Night at Ballyhoo. More than ten years ago, however, when they were both at a Thanksgiving party in Litchfield County, Uhry gave Clarke an idea, and that seed has blossomed into Angel Reapers. A dance-theatre piece, it begins performances on February 2 at Signature Theatre. 

Back then, Uhry suggested Clarke look at a biography of Ann Lee, the founder of the Shakers, an 18th- and 19th-century religious order known for its strict celibacy and spasmodic, vibrating movements that supposedly emanated from the self-purging of sins. 

The pair quickly realized that Lee's life and legacy lent themselves to a non-traditional storyline. "For the Shakers the line between reality and the world beyond is pretty thin," Uhry says. "It seems best explored in the way Martha has done – through movement and abstraction, building the piece around the dancers." 

The focus on movement has steered Uhry toward a different type of writing, in which he and Clarke, who currently has a residency at Signature, take a more abstract and emotional look at the characters and the story. He slyly notes that working this way has unexpected benefits: "Dancers will do anything. They don't ask actor-y questions which can slow things up. They just do it." 

 Martha Clarke

Martha Clarke

For her part, Clarke describes the work as "a kind of Shaker tone poem." The 70-minute piece – which comes to Signature after a 2011 tour -- features original Shaker songs which are sung a cappella by the cast, shaped by music director Alfred Solari.”

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