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Performers Celebrate Nature, Perception and Human Connection at Horsford Gardens & Nursery

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Nicole Dagesse - COURTESY OF NICOLE DAGESSE
  • Courtesy Of Nicole Dagesse
  • Nicole Dagesse

During the pandemic, "many artists are working on their own, but there's always a spiderweb connecting us," says performer, choreographer, director and educator Hanna Satterlee. It's a web of emails and phone calls, of common experience during a challenging time — and often of appreciation for nature.

On Saturday and Sunday, September 11 and 12, Satterlee gathers 10 professional dancers, musicians and poets from Vermont and Connecticut to perform six works at Horsford Gardens & Nursery in Charlotte. Called "Garden of Delights: Interdisciplinary Performance Tour," the event allows performers and audience members alike to explore elements of that spiderweb.

"What resonates in similarity across the group, and what's totally different?" Satterlee wonders about the show.

A guide will take the audience on a walking tour that visits solos, duets and a trio performing at various Horsford sites, including the pond, hoop houses, garden center, barn, greenhouse and tree nursery.

In soliciting works, Satterlee offered the artists no specific theme or construct. "I liked the fact that our environment would hold the through line," she says.

Hanna Satterlee at Horsford Gardens & Nursery - COURTESY OF HANNA SATTERLEE
  • Courtesy Of Hanna Satterlee
  • Hanna Satterlee at Horsford Gardens & Nursery

On Friday and Saturday, September 18 and 19, Satterlee offers a follow-up two-day workshop for community artists, performers and "curious thinkers," she says. Participants will draw on all of their senses and the surrounding Horsford environment to create interdisciplinary works.

This is the third consecutive year that Burlington-based Satterlee has participated in Horsford's Art in the Garden series, events that artists host for community members after business hours. This year's offerings, which began in June, have included workshops on painting, bookmaking and bonsai. Community Cider Pressing with Vermont Homestead Cider rounds out the series on October 2.

In 2019 and 2020, Satterlee offered workshops similar to this year's but focused more heavily on dance and music and spanning four days rather than two. They culminated in well-received public performances, Satterlee recalls, but she and the participants found the creative process somewhat rushed.

This year, she's offering the workshop and show separately, aiming in the performance "to highlight artists that are constantly in their practice and give them an opportunity to showcase what's potent for them right now," Satterlee says.

An approaching life change is potent for dance and music artists Neva Cockrell and Raphael Sacks. The Springfield couple will perform "Re:Birth," whose title speaks to people's proverbial rebirths through changes large and small and to the literal birth of their first child.

Cockrell is 37 weeks pregnant, and her due date, September 21, is roughly a week after "Garden of Delights." If she weren't about to have a baby, she'd be performing in Taiwan with acclaimed dance theater company Pilobolus.

"It feels like a really rare opportunity to explore pregnancy, life transitions and ritual performance in a very vulnerable moment in my and our lives," Cockrell says of herself and her husband. The pair will sing and move, together and separately, integrating composed and improvised songs.

In their work as directors of the Art Monastery Project in Springfield and interdisciplinary performance collective Loom Ensemble, they often address cultural issues by drawing on their own experiences, Sacks notes.

"Neva's bravery — bringing her full-on goddess embodiment with this big belly onto the stage — [challenges] the repressive, patriarchal, body-shaming standards of airbrushed media representations of the female body," Sacks says.

Neva Cockrell - COURTESY OF NEVA COCKRELL
  • Courtesy Of Neva Cockrell
  • Neva Cockrell

For both artists, "Re:Birth" is also a way to welcome their transition into parenthood and to explore humanity's opportunity to transcend the pre-pandemic status quo.

"How do we transform? How do we effect change?" Cockrell asks. "How do we cultivate ceremony in our modern-day culture — and how do we not do it alone?"

Another duo performing in "Garden of Delights" is equally concerned with the challenges of isolation.

In 2019 and early 2020, dance artist Jessie Owens and musician/composer Matt LaRocca worked with a team of artists to create and perform the full-length work They Say the Lady Was the Cause of It. The process was intense, Owens writes by email, creating strong bonds that were wrenched apart at the onset of the pandemic.

"Moving from that experience into being totally cut off from all of my collaborators during the lockdown was incredibly hard," Owens writes. She and LaRocca, both of Burlington, decided to keep creating and performing together.

"E is for Everything I Am Feeling Right Now" conveys their experiences of loss, separation and reconnection. For Owens, the work embodies a multiplicity of daily emotions: "boredom, acceptance, isolation, grief, anger, anxiety, despair," she writes, "but also the shared humanity and humor and beauty and joy."

Satterlee's piece for "Garden of Delights" is also imbued with questions about human experience. In the online description of her dance solo, "See What Is Not Said," she writes, "This performance is an invitation for the audience to become the author. Place your own feeling into the why of the work, the how of the body, the change over time. What does this dance, in this moment, in this place mean to you?" 

"I'm really interested in how we interpret everything differently," Satterlee says by phone. The founder and former executive director of the nonprofit network Vermont Dance Alliance recently recommitted to making her own abstract and conceptual art, one of the central concerns of which is her relationship with the environment.

In "See What Is Not Said," she explores how we hold multiplicity and how we make meaning. She also aims to honor how memories shape our sensory experience. "We are always bringing our past with us, and our knowledge," Satterlee says.

Brandon-based Mat Clouser will read poems from his work in progress, Excoriate the Morning Glory. The New England Culinary Institute and Goddard College graduate and former restaurant worker moved from Austin, Texas, to Vermont about a year ago to be closer to family and nature.

Clouser's poems tend to be "relatively absurd," he says, "which I think works OK, considering we're in some pretty absurd times." He imbues his free verse with some humor but also expresses "anger, frustration and grief about the planet and how things have changed."

His idyllic view of Vermont, polished in the 20 years he lived elsewhere, was tarnished when he returned. He was "deeply saddened" to learn of pollution in local rivers and Lake Champlain, Clouser said.

"Garden of Delights" offers him, other artists and the audience an opportunity to rest fully in the present, appreciating nature and human contact. Performers include Jericho-based Nicole Dagesse of Murmurations Dance, and Connecticut artists Ellen Smith Ahern, Rebecca Pappas and Taylor Zappone.

Tickets for each show are limited for visibility, parking and pandemic safety reasons. Attendees may bring walkers, canes, wheelchairs and their own portable chairs. Masks are required. All proceeds will pay the artists.

For Sacks, the show offers not only enjoyment of the present but also "a kind of nourishment that comes from the in-person connection." Besides, he adds, "When was the last time you saw a professional dancer performing while eight months pregnant?"

"Garden of Delights: Interdisciplinary Performance Tour," Saturday and Sunday, September 11 and 12, 6:30 p.m. $20-50. Garden of Delights: Site-Specific Devising Workshop, weekend intensive, Friday and Saturday, September 18 and 19, 4:30-7:30 p.m. $120-200. Both events at Horsford Gardens & Nursery in Charlotte. hannasatt@gmail.com, hannasatterlee.com

The original print version of this article was headlined "Web of Ties"