Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
'Drift,' Choreographed by Cassie Meador
by Carmel Morgan
September 19, 2008 - The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Millennium Stage, Washington, DC
On September 19, 2008, “Drift,” a work about the interaction between humans and their environment choreographed by Local Dance Commissioning Project award winner Cassie Meador of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, premiered at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. Meador, who is originally from Augusta, Georgia, playfully and sensitively fuses a history of her small Southern town into a highly theatrical piece that reflects upon fields as diverse as geology, ecology, archeology, and architecture, and also fields of the agricultural sort.
More precisely, “Drift” explores the evolution of a plot of land from farmland to a Piggy Wiggly supermarket to a strip mall church. The set consists of a trio of tall church windows in fabric frames that when spun around turn into store shelves; halos of fluorescent light; a burlap sack of coffee-colored soil; and a wooden table with stones as coasters atop it. Ten dancers, members of the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange – a company of performers whose ages span six decades – and also adjunct artists, tell a bittersweet story of growth and change within a community. Recorded voices with a lovely Southern accent, and also live voices, narrate parts of “Drift.” The magnificent Thomas Dwyer tugs at heartstrings as an old farmer in suspenders recounting the past, while the spirited Sarah Levitt takes the role of a Piggly Wiggly clerk in a candy-striped apron.
Levitt nearly steals the show as a chatty former supermarket employee of the month reminiscing about the glory days of aisles packed with sugary cereals and also the joy of fresh peaches. She wonders aloud if they “ever just grew peaches here.” We learn that indeed they did. Dwyer’s farmer laments that people nowadays don’t know where food comes from. He and his wife dance poignantly to a radio tune.
Meador uses a lot of simple, repeating pedestrian movements and gestures, so “Drift” offers less intense dance than one might hope. Dancers pump their arms as if they were mindlessly scanning produce or extend their arms in parallel lines over their heads in frustration, perhaps. More enjoyable are moments of complex groupings. The jolly, flirty jaunts of groups pushing glittery, silver shopping carts across the stage remind one of a Broadway number. Sporting cutesy smiles, they bounce and prance about, flaunting a rainbow of cereal boxes containing chemical-sounding ingredients. Meanwhile, the elderly couple slowly waltzes, as a voice describes the Great Depression as a time when farmers didn’t know how poor they were because they had the food they had grown. The contrast is stark.
We get a history lesson. The rustic home the couple had built eventually got bulldozed to make way for a gleaming, modern supermarket. And following the move of the supermarket to a different location, a church “with one aisle, not fifteen” arose. Yet something in the shared space over time clearly unites these places, and the choreography conveys this nicely.
Toward the end of “Drift,” dancers gather to admire Georgia peaches, sniff and chew them, and ponder the nature of change. With a chorus of “Amens” from the new church, the message seems to be that healing is taking place with regard to these transformations. Finally, the largest window is turned around to reveal branches and candles. A round stained glass portrait of a cartoon pig, star of the Southern Piggly Wiggly supermarket chain, sits at the top of the shrine, and Levitt stands in reverence before it. With this, the symbolic journey of “Drift” comes full circle.