In 'The Quarry Project Echoes,' Artists Reflect on Hannah Dennison's Singular Dance Production | Art Review | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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In 'The Quarry Project Echoes,' Artists Reflect on Hannah Dennison's Singular Dance Production


Published June 5, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated June 6, 2024 at 10:03 a.m.

Painting by Michael Kovner - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Painting by Michael Kovner

Outside the Kents' Corner State Historic Site in Calais, passersby can only guess at the 19th-century brick building's many lives. Inside its warren of rooms, exposed lath and patchy wallpaper hold memories like treasure. Right now, a more recent story unfolds in an exhibition called "The Quarry Project Echoes." Its contents include dancers' dresses; a jumble of white-painted chairs; a small wrought-iron bed frame; a video projected on the ceiling; a poem, hand-lettered on a scroll; and numerous photographs, paintings, sculptures and installations indoors and out.

The Quarry Project was a dance and music performance conceived and choreographed by Chelsea-based Hannah Dennison, now 76. After some years of preparation — and delayed by the COVID-19 shutdown — the production finally took place in August 2022 at Barre's Wells-Lamson Quarry. In that majestic setting, performers and audience alike floated on platforms over deep water, surrounded by towering walls of ancient gray stone. In striking contrast, the barefoot dancers wore vintage dresses in vibrant red, orange, pink and gold.

"The Great Way" by Andreas John, installation view - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "The Great Way" by Andreas John, installation view

"Echoes," produced by Dennison's Cradle to Grave Arts along with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation, presents 12 artists' responses to the Quarry Project. "It is not my exhibit," Dennison stressed in a phone call. "It's theirs. I get to see other people's reflection of the work that I do."

The exhibition is not merely rote documentation of the production; even in the confines of the Kent's small spaces, "Echoes" provides an immersive experience. In fact, the contrasts between the two sites — natural versus human-built, vast versus contained — might invite contemplative viewers to hop down a rather pleasant conceptual rabbit hole.

Quarry Project dancers by Julia Barstow - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Quarry Project dancers by Julia Barstow

Most of the artists were involved in some way with the performance. Julia Barstow, for one, was the project's official photographer, and 60 of her richly colored images — from close-ups of dancers' feet to panoramic views of the quarry — populate the Kent's rooms. Most of the photographs are large and compel a viewer's attention; three minuscule ones are nearly obscured in a corner cupboard filled with glass canning jars. Holding various levels of water, the jars reference that quintessential element of the quarry.

Barstow's images have good company in those of two other contributing photographers. Andreas John's stunning photo "The Great Way" shows an expansive view of the quarry and a distant figure (Dennison herself) standing in a rowboat, tiny against the massive wall. The striated stone and greenery clinging to it are mirrored in the glassy water. It's a serene illustration of "as above, so below." At the Kent, the same boat, turned on its side, enshrines John's framed photograph.

Photographs and display by Michael Wisniewski - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Photographs and display by Michael Wisniewski

Photographer and architect Michael Wisniewski spent abundant time at the quarry capturing crystalline views of water, stone, land, sky and dancers. For "Echoes," he designed and built two innovative racks on which his photos are hung salon-style. Particularly unusual is a trio of stands that present long horizontal pictures vertically; viewers can tilt their heads to "read" them or allow the eye to process the images as abstractions. The base of each stand is a white-painted triangle of wood panels, inside of which is a soft light. Whether intentional or not, these constructions suggest small boats with tall sails.

Huge kudos go to artist Leslie Anderson, a longtime collaborator of Dennison's who has worked mainly on costumes and sets. Her unerring vision in composing spaces has resulted in an aesthetically cogent experience at the Kent. The installations reprise props from the performance and range from elegant, such as dancers' dresses hung in a small hallway and illuminated from below, to humorous, including a tangled heap of thrift-shop chairs. ("We painted 73 chairs white," Dennison noted.)

Other installations utilize former set items including a long table and benches, piled with silver-plated dishes, pitchers, goblets and the like; and antique suitcases holding driftwood and other natural debris.

"Quarry 2" by Alisa Dworsky - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "Quarry 2" by Alisa Dworsky

Anderson is also a 2D artist whose lively paintings and a large-scale fabric collage of dancers appear in "Echoes." Israel-based artist Michael Kovner, who discovered Dennison's work online and shares her admiration for the late German choreographer Pina Bausch, contributed a number of paintings of dancers, as well. Alisa Dworsky's frottage drawings, for which she arranged ribbons in the shape of dancers' movements, distill their performance to an energetic essence.

Lukas Huffman's video installation, on a loop about five minutes long, is both mesmerizing and disorienting: Imagine fragments of quarry and dance scenes projected on the ceiling of a darkened room so that a viewer reclining on pillows below sees the images upside down. Menghan Wang's sound installation is drawn from the spellbinding music of Quarry Project composer Andric Severance, featuring the resonant tones of a shakuhachi.

Space does not allow acknowledging every participant in this exhibition; suffice to say viewers will have much to discover. "Echoes" is an apt title, and metaphor, for this compelling exhibit. Its visual and sonic motifs reflect and briefly resurrect the Quarry Project's singular splendor.

Correction, June 6, 2024: This article was updated to include the name of Quarry Project composer Andric Severance.

"The Quarry Project Echoes" is on view Friday, Saturday and Sunday through June at Kents' Corner State Historic Site in Calais. Closing reception: Sunday, June 30, 3 to 6 p.m.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Rock and a Heart Place | In "The Quarry Project Echoes," artists reflect on Hannah Dennison's singular dance production"

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