Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.
I had the opportunity to see the show in New York last summer, and while we were talking, Pendleton revealed another layer of the work: a free verse poem written after he first staged the piece. The non-linear narrative (which is included in the program for the evening) cultivates the environment, and thus, reflects the spirit of the show. “Sometimes the logic of a show for me might be just like the logic you have in nature … you hear an owl hooting, you know the centaurs are about to come,” Pendleton said. “There’s a whole other language being created. Nature doesn’t need logic.”
For Pendleton, Botanica is not so much a true interpretation of nature as it is an exploration into a fantastic garden of unearthly and earthly delights. Many artists have taken on the four seasons in an attempt to understand from whence they came, and while Botanica’s cyclical structure adds to the form, it digs into a three-dimensional visual environment, much like a film would. In fact, the inspiration for the show came from Pendleton’s garden and his work in photography and video.
At his home in Connecticut, Pendleton has cultivated a massive garden dedicated to sunflowers and marigolds. Over the years, in a Darwinian research style, he has documented the ever-changing faces of the flowers to capture their life through film. “It is my passion,” he said, “this ritualistic movement that I have to do.”
And if people can’t come to his garden, the next best thing to do is get it up on the screen. “If I spend this much time in the garden growing these beautiful marigolds, I should make a dance about [them]. Admire them. Be enthused about them,” Pendleton said. So, he photographs and films the events in his garden and translates them into mysterious puppets, beautiful costumes and projected images and film. Botanica utilizes traditional theatrical elements such as movable sets and contemporary performance art tools such as live video feeds.
His use of technology helps audience members who are not as knowledgeable about dance or technical theater become involved in the show and enjoy it as much as the dancer sitting next to them. He also sees it as the way the world is going. Technology has a “vast influence on our sense of who we are,” Pendleton says. “All this sped-up technology is how people receive information [and] anything artistic that is going on in the world, or in the future world, is going to reflect that … I think it’s fascinating. Maybe it’s part of our evolution that we create something made of something that is not flesh and blood.”
However, part of his aesthetic is to eliminate certain things so that the essence of the subject solely remains. The viewer of either his photography or choreography is allowed to choose what to focus on and welcome to create his or her own story about the image.
“Dance is not just about pictures, it’s about the whole experience,” Pendleton says. When he is making a dance, it stems from an image, then germinates while he explores different musical options, and finally blooms when it hits the stage. It’s a collective experience from beginning to end.
“Ultimately,” he said, “art should uplift you, and lift the soul. What else should you want it to do?”