Bare Bait Dance rarely sticks with convention, but the immersive nature of the dance company's newest production feels more unorthodox than usual. Lovesong, written by British playwright Abi Morgan, was originally performed on a stage, but BBD has taken its version of the show away from the familiar environs of downtown Missoula and the University of Montana's theaters and set it inside a house located in the quiet, maple-lined Slant Street neighborhood.
Lovesong is also unconventional in that it's not really what you'd initially consider a dance piece. It's a narrative play that entwines the story of a newlywed couple in their 20s with the story of the same couple 40 years later. Actors Colton Swibold and BBD co-director Kelly Bouma play the younger couple, just becoming accustomed to life together, while E.T. Varney and Pamyla Stiehl play the couple decades later, their lives marked by sweet moments and little betrayals.
Despite its core theatrical qualities, the way that these separate timelines mesh is part of why Lovesong does fit into the dance world. The actors swoop in and out of the scenes, serving as future and past ghosts of each other's selves. There's a gracefulness about the way the four characters occupy the house in order to create the illusion of being separated in time, if not in space. And a lot of the essential emotion of this show manifests in the way the characters move, rather than in dialogue.
An additional interesting effect of setting Lovesong in a house is that it takes on a cinematic quality.
"It's almost like we rehearsed a play, but now we're shooting a film," says director Bernadette Sweeney. "Once we were in the house it became all about angles, and trying to anticipate how to make a real house a setting with the right lighting. It's like a film set."
There are three areas within the house where the show takes place. One is the kitchen, a space that opens out into the livingroom, where the audience will sit. Throughout the performance, showgoers will move to another space on the ground floor made into a bedroom nook. There's also a scene that takes place in the backyard (Sweeney assures that it's a brief part of the play, and the producers plan to provide blankets on the seats.)
During a recent evening's rehearsal, the actors practiced their entrances and exits and talked through logistical hiccups. For instance, the peaches on the table in the kitchen are rock hard, which makes it difficult for Varney's character to take a bite and believably call it ripe. No problem: The peaches have plenty of time to soften before the play's opening, but the situation provides a window into something else that makes this production so intriguing: the effect of watching the drama so close up.
Inside the walls of a real house, the attendees get to be in the thick of the drama in a naturalistic way. And in a story about the human condition, which hints at Prufrock's famous poem, the house ends up seeming just as much a character.
"I was walking into rehearsal the other night," Sweeney says, "and I was looking up and down the street and I thought, 'My goodness, what are the stories of all these houses? What have they witnessed over the years? What joys? What trauma?' And this is just one story, but it does make you wonder."
Bare Bait Dance presents Lovesong Fri., Oct. 20–Sun., Oct. 22 and Wed., Oct. 25–Sun., Oct. 29, at 8 PM. $28. $60 date night package with love note included. Barebaitdance.org. Location disclosed upon purchase of ticket.