There’s a lot going on at the Milwaukee Fringe Festival this year. One brief performance nestled in between all of the other disparate fare on the schedule is The Dance of Moons & Buckets--an abstract solo movement piece in which Selena Milewski explores a young woman’s journey through an abusive relationship.
Abuse comes in many forms. According to The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a US woman is assaulted or beat once every 9 seconds. (Disturbing to think of over 100 assaults will happen in the US in the time it takes for Milewski to get through the performance.) This is just PHYSICAL abuse, though. This doesn’t take into account all of the truly ugly aggression that people suffer in relationships. 20 million people are physically abused in this country annually. In light of how much more common verbal and emotional abuse must be, it’s staggering to think about how universal it must be. Milewkski’s abstract performance piece offers the opportunity to explore issues of abuse that go far beyond the physical.
Milewski is accompanied in her performance by a couple of kōkens (stage assistants) and the overriding symbols of a moon a bucket. She took the time to answer a few questions for The Small Stage.
What’s the history of The Dance of Moons & Buckets? Is this the first time you’ve performed it?
Yes. This is the first performance. The idea has been gestating for about two years, however.
This is just one performance for the festival. You’ve done shows with much longer runs than this, obviously. How is it different preparing for a performance that’s going to live onstage for less than one hour at the end of the month?
I’ve not found the preparation itself to be particularly different. There’s a given amount of work and a given amount of time in which to accomplish it. Once a show opens, that work is largely done—whether that show has one performance or a dozen. Certainly there’s an increased desire to create the very best offering I can since I’ve only got the one shot.
The promo pic included on the fringe fest website has you in white against a black background. There’s black. There’s white. There’s a moon. There’s a bucket. There’s you and a couple of kokens. How can we expect it to all flow together for the performance?
This piece is the narrative of a personal story from my past told through movement. This is not my native mode of expression. I come from the world of words, scripts and straight acting and singing, not from the world of dance. I based “The Dance of Moons & Buckets'" structure on that of a classic five-act play to give myself a grounding in the familiar as I explored a new mode of expression that I believe will best express the content and make the story more meaningful to a greater number of people. Each section has a distinct soundtrack, emotional quality and portion of story to tell. I’ve titled the five sections: 1) Falling in Love, 2) Grief Interrupted, 3) Betrayal and Death, 4) The Birth of Blanche: Queen of Ice and Artifice, 5) Alone.
While the piece has a specific story arc for me, I’ve chosen an abstract style because I do hope that viewers will find and create meaning for themselves.
What can viewers expect in terms of the symbolic elements included? My personal journey played out in solo movement sections, as well as interplay between me and the kokens, who manipulate buckets of various sizes and perform other roles primarily related to set movement. Also, an enormous moon set piece with one dramatic, kinetic moment of its own.
While the abstract performance DOES have the opportunity to speak to certain universals about abuse and abusive relationships, doesn’t the beautiful abstraction of dance run the risk of washing away some of the ugliness of the abuse you’re exploring here?
There may be that potential, of course, but I also believe an Emily Dickinson maxim applies here: “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” That is to say, sometimes the best way to address an important and challenging topic is with a sidelong approach that engages unconscious and intuitive processing, rather than conscious and rational processing alone.
Moreover, beautiful as movement pieces can be, there is a good deal of deliberate ugliness incorporated here, both in the musical score and physical score. I’m attempting to cover a broad range of experience in a short amount of time, drawing on everything from the blissful head-in-the-clouds sentiments of falling in love to the horror of betrayal and suicidal ideation.
It’s also worth noting that, although the plotline tracks a distinct series of events, this is something of an internal monologue delivered through movement. Much of the action you see reflects what the subject is feeling and thinking as events unfold. For instance, during the second section we look in on her “stages of grief” and how they are interrupted when her former partner repeatedly comes back into her life, eventually leading to long-term re-engagement.
The Dance of Moons & Buckets makes its way to the Wilson Theatre at Vogel Hall on Sunday, Aug. 27 at 3:15 pm. It is on a program with Lake Arts Projects Mentoring Hope. For more information, visit the Milwaukee Fringe Fest Online.