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Pat Graney is angry, and it’s a beautiful thing

Sruti Desai and Cheryl Delostrinos in Pat Graney’s Girl Gods.

During a recent afternoon rehearsal with her five dancers, choreographer Pat Graney was discussing timing, dresses, and poultry–specifically where one might procure a Cornish game hen.

This was Graney, one of Seattle’s most admired and respected dance makers, finessing her first full-length work in seven years. Girl Gods premieres this week at On The Boards and if a peek at the work in progress is a good indicator, it promises to be both aesthetically memorable and emotionally challenging. In other words: classic Graney.

The work focuses on a favorite Graney subject—women—but this time it’s women and the idea of rage. (The poultry, for example, serves as a prop in a segment about the ritual of domestic work but it’s slated to be anything but cutesy).

Graney, 59, has received some of the highest accolades locally and nationally for her work. Her contemporary dance pieces have included large-scale installations as well as performance workshops for incarcerated women and girls. In conversations after rehearsal one recent Saturday at On The Boards and then over the phone, Graney weighed in on stuffing one’s emotions, the radical act of unleashing rage, and the insecurity she still feels even though she’s in her 36th year of creating work:

Pat GraneyOn how one unexpected act of rage set off an inquiry into the subject:

Years ago, I was in the basement storing things. And I was trying to pull out one of these chairs, a family heirloom out from a cramped area. I pulled and pulled and I got so enraged I threw it against the wall and I saw it splinter all over the place. And I wrote about it, taking apart that moment, slowing it down, going back. The explosiveness of anger, uncontrolled anger; that dark side we’re not allowed to show. There’s so much material that’s unformed, that’s beautiful, in rage.

On collaborating with her dancers:

My experience growing up was a solitary one, a world of fantasy, of books and dreams. That’s where I lived. To share the world (of creating) is terrifying. It’s a great challenge for me artistically. … [But] including people in the process means they have authorship and ownership; having ownership makes the performance very different. It’s a great experience as a director to make people feel like they’re on board.

On the recordings that comprise some of the soundscape (by Amy Denio) for the piece:

The dancers all interviewed their moms about power and being able to get angry or not—what was allowed and acceptable and what was not. It’s really interesting to hear women talk about feminism; the younger moms felt much more empowered—they feel like they were born into it compared to some of the older moms who felt like they didn’t have that same opportunity.

We created a place to share. We created our own family in making this work and we’re mining all these different experiences. It’s a rich palette. Some of the material is really awful and some of it is so awful it’s actually funny.

On the importance of looking back at history, specifically women’s history:

As a group, we really identified female icons and your mother is an icon, whether you want her to be or not. It’s important that we look at and address the shoulders of the women that we stand on—all these women who have done so much amazing work.

On stage, I really wanted to have a sense of generations. So I have an older woman and a girl. We pay homage to what’s come before and what will come after in this work.

On how becoming a mom in her 50s (her daughter is 6 years old) now informs her work:

It makes one more conscious, more acutely aware of generational things. It changes up the game and the way you perceive yourself and the way you perceive others and families.

On the influence of her Keeping the Faith/The Prison Project program that she started in 1992 and remains one of the longest-running prison arts programs in the country:

It’s been a huge influence on my work. I’m not the same person I was when I started working on it. Keeping the Faith is about looking at women and facilitating their voices so they can be heard, which is so important to me.

Pat Graney’s Girl Gods plays at On the Boards from Oct. 1 – 4. Tickets are $25. Find more info here.

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