‘The Relatives’ returns to Walla Walla a full-on dance theater

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WALLA WALLA — What began last year as a 10-minute original duet by local dancers Peter de Grasse and Vicki Lloid at a Walla Walla wine tasting room has taken a huge leap — in cast and the performance stage.

“The Relatives” — now with more dancers in the troupe, musicians playing original music, along with several actors in an expanded version of that duet — will perform Saturday at Gesa Power House Theatre.

The evolution from then to now is a case of artistic perfectionism, wanting that second chance for a redo to more fully explore the depth and breadth of a concept.

Thus Lloid, de Grasse and Raffaele Exiana — all professional dancers and founders of the SuitCase Dances dance theater collaborative in Walla Walla — set out to bring “The Relatives” back to town.

The production’s gothic fairy-tale storyline examines the fragments that make up human nature and the inevitable conflicts that ensue.

It evolves around a cult that awaits an innocent to fall victim to their ritual. The cast’s characters include The Narrator, Spirit, Innocence, The Matriarch, The Siren, The Drag Queen and The Relatives’ Assistants.

“Peter and I thought the duet had real possibilities for expansion and could be made into a full-length piece by adding ‘relatives,’ and so we began to develop more characters and sketch out scenarios,” said Lloid, who taught modern dance at Whitman College for many years.

Lloid said she and de Grasse, currently a member of the college’s dance faculty, also wanted to keep a few ideas from their original duet constant in this full-fledged production.

“First of all, we wanted the added relatives to represent additional aspects of a single person so that each character would present a partial picture of what, in our minds, had become an essentially fractured individual,” Lloid said.

Into the stew they added “stock” characters such as those found in Commedia dell’arte and other forms of storytelling.

“We also wanted to deconstruct Peter’s drag queen character and find a way to reduce the character to its most basic form, whatever that might be,” she said.

“This made us think of what happens when we ‘un-armor’ ourselves in the world.

“We all want to manage the way we are seen by others. We have our notions of what kind of people we are, what we would do and wouldn’t do.”

The story, dance, acting and music addresses some very human questions common to most people, although answers are often elusive until fate lands on us with both feet and forces responses.

Ready or not. Like them or not.

Lloid asks those questions this way:

“What happens to us when that image we present of ourselves to others is altered, taken away or destroyed?

“What happens when we hit that wall and can go no farther down a road that ignores essential aspects of ourselves?

“How would the deconstruction of one aspect of the personality affect the other parts?

“What happens when we begin the process of forgiveness and integration?”

The story, written by Douglas Carlsen, who also plays the Narrator onstage, is based on Lloid and de Grasse’s original concept and works on multiple levels and includes some comic high jinks along the way to triumph of spirit, Lloid said.

“There is the level of simple storytelling and relationship and so on, but at a deeper level I think the piece will speak to the difficult tasks we all face in life and how maybe we can go about rescuing ourselves from what might be called our darker tendencies.”

The choreography is handled by Lloid, de Grasse and Exiana, a former member of the Rome Opera Ballet, who all dance in the production, along with Geneva Bahrke and Jennifer Clark. Exiana also designed and made costumes as well as an oversized table/altar that serves as the set.

Actors include Carlsen, Jeremy Howell and Bradley Nelson

Original music for “The Relatives” was composed by Ethan Maier, a recent Whitman graduate, and is performed by himself and three other musicians on instruments that include keyboards, accordion, bass, bassoon and percussion.

“Everyone has something to offer,” Lloid said, “and that collaboration has made the project more interesting and more fun.”

Thomas P. Skeen can be reached at tomskeen@wwub.com or 526-8320.

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