Promise 2015 Journal

This journal page chronicles the thoughts and experiences of Associate Dancer, Heather Marotti, as we re-construct Promise, our 2009 work inspired by John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” Promise is performed partly on aerial straps, a circus apparatus which, as you will see below, are among the most challenging of aerial devices. Other parts of Promise present their own unique challenges and rewards. We hope Heather’s Journal will lend insight and discovery into the 2015 process of the making and re-making our first full length dance.


March 18, 2015

By Heather Marotti
We live in a world that constantly wants to categorize humanity—our beliefs, personality types, genders, and cultures. And within all of those categories there are infinitely more categories. I suppose this is our attempt to define ourselves and others. An attempt to answer these questions: Who am I? Who will I become?

In Act 2 of Promise, we begin to follow the next generation of characters. We observe the very beginning of their self-discovery. Adam and Cathy have twin boys, Aron and Cal. The beginning of the twin’s choreography mirrors one another. They roll on their backs and grasp the air as they realize the laws of gravity and muscular control of their limbs. It resembles the developmental milestones of a baby’s stages of growth. Once they each have developed an understanding of their body and movement, Aron and Cal suddenly sit up. The twins stare at one another for a moment, possibly realizing the existence of the other. They first encounter pursuance and rivalry. With aggressive desperation the two begin grabbing for the straps in between them. Cathy has abandoned them, and Adam is too torn to really care for them. These twins are flooded with neglect from the very beginning, craving compassion and attention. Once the initial self-realization begins, our further discovery must then develop from how we relate to others.

The twins hug and rely on one another for balance and security, but ultimately drift further from their center and split. They circle each other as they tug on the straps, fighting for Adam’s approval. Adam repeats the mistakes of his father by showing favoritism toward Aron and further rejecting Cal. Eventually Cal tosses the strap, giving up on impressing his father and trying to measure up to Aron’s ambitions. No matter how tenaciously Cal works, he remains in Aron’s shadow. Cal is overwhelmed with jealousy and a desire to make sense of his world. As he goes to search for his mother, I wonder if he thinks she will give him preferential treatment as Adam has done for Aron. Maybe she will understand him like no one else has before.

As children we relate to the world through our parents’ eyes. We believe what we are taught because we trust them. We hold tight to the world they’ve created for us and take it as the truth until something is proven erroneous. We are told that a fairy gives us money for our lost teeth, that spinach gives you super powers, and that throwing a tantrum is not the way to get what you want. Yet at some point in our lives we learn there was never a fairy, we ate all the spinach and never got a super power, and most of the time when we threw a tantrum in the grocery store we did get what we wanted. The world becomes a blurry mess as we mature and discover the realities in life. We become unsure of everything we were told and drift into a new version of ourselves as we re-discover the world through our own eyes. Aron and Cal begin with similar evolving characteristics, yet they slowly begin to lean away from one another. Aron refuses to accept any reality but the ideal world which he has understood since his childhood. Adam’s constant doting on Aron creates such a veiled comprehension of reality that Aron can’t grow and face the world for what it really is. This ultimately leads to his demise.

Cal doubts his father’s illusionary world at any early stage. He then turns to his mother. He stalks her in an attempt to discover his self-identity. He finds her addicted to drugs and the madam at a local brothel. At first he is nervous that her evil tendencies have been handed down to him. He simply craves a connection to his family or even to her, a woman he barely knows. We all desperately want to relate to others around us. Maybe this is where the categories come from. We want to feel a part of something. We want to believe that we understand the world, that we understand others, and that we understand ourselves.

If I don’t identify with a specific category, am I lost? Am I undefinable? Do I have to be like my mom or like my dad? Or a specific animal in a personality quiz, a particular race or gender, or even a part of a single political party? We confine our reality but shoving people, societies, and cultures into categories. As we mature and attempt to discover the world for ourselves, are we actually just veiling our reality as our parents did when we were children by turning to these categories for self-definition. By accepting reality and all the true depths of the surrounding world, Cal becomes one of the only characters who is able to transform and break the cycle of evil tendencies within his family’s past. Through this he is able to realize that the world is what you make of it. Who you are or who you will become is entirely up to you and your actions. As we get older, we evolve into a more layered complex version of ourselves. Our life experiences begin to define us. We can create our own habits, tendencies, and personality traits.

To define yourself you don’t need to look to who your parents or siblings became or others in your personality category, or what your society has told you to be. Be you.

March 3, 2015

by Heather Marotti
The choreography in Promise constantly references life as a cyclical inevitability. We symbolize this societal cycle as we run in a large circle around center stage. Occasionally we break off into individual steps and choreographic conversations, but we always return to ‘the swirls’. When one dancer begins to run we know to follow them into the circle. Nonetheless, we often find ourselves asking one another, “Which swirl is this?” We get dizzy and sometimes can’t remember when or where to stop. We chase, follow, and lead in this circular movement, hoping to come out of it into the correct formation.

Swirls become a recurring image throughout the piece to represent a communal conformity. Order and compliance were expected in this Victorian era. A growing middle class strove to polish and purify their world with a refined society rooted in religious expectations. But social reform forced itself through these veiled illusions. People began to question. And they began to reject conformity, eliciting a civil war and beginning women’s suffrage rights.

Personifying a communal conformity, we hold hands and swirl into a spiral. We coil until we are too tightly spun and must unravel. A couple times in Promise, we break away from the swirls to ‘throw a tantrum’. Wini allowed us to create our own tantrum sequence. To inspire our movement in a modern day light, she referenced those moments when your boss at work is doing something inefficiently. You know there is a better way to successfully accomplish the task. However, your boss has been doing this for a long time the same way. The frustration you feel when you want to take matters into your own hands but feel restricted by your lower station in the corporate rank hierarchy. How do we prompt a change in the cycle without offending our superiors or causing a commotion? Maybe a commotion is necessary.

In Cathy’s duet with Liza, we see them dancing together with grace, sophistication, and femininity. They reference a Victorian style portrait with elegant turned in palms and facial profiles. Liza’s choreography is cyclical, like the swirls. She appears almost on autopilot as her soft arms embrace the children and pick up laundry. She rarely even looks at the audience. Cathy aggressively breaks away from this conventionalism. Her hands claw at the air and she repeatedly slaps her face.

Cathy’s character is a tantrum. She is a quintessential example of causing turmoil in a violent attempt to reject herself and her domesticity. In Promise’s setting, it was believed that women were meant to be a component of the home. The ‘good women’ in East of Eden never spoke and devoted their time to chores and religion. Cyrus (Adam’s father) looked for a wife simply because he didn’t have money for a servant or prostitute. These women retreated into cold characters, prohibited from showing emotion. Liza, Alice, and Adam’s mom were shut down by society’s expectations and turned into mechanical slaves of the home. Adam’s mother drowns herself due to a distorted understanding of religion and her role as a woman. Cathy’s promiscuity and extreme violence evolved from a simple resistance to the expected domesticated roles of women during this era.

America has certainly evolved since the beginning of the 20th century. Though women have the opportunity to choose a variety of lifestyles in our modern America, we continue to fight for equal pay and treatment. Over a hundred years later and we are still battling for equality. It’s too easy in our daily lives to simply follow and get lost in the cycle. Grace Hopper once noted, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’” Must we throw a tantrum or cause a commotion to end the swirl of conformity?

February 13, 2015

by Heather Marotti
Every Tuesday we practice with “The Straps”—pulling and tugging on their rough edges, attempting to find some security and strength as they sway and twist without notice. We grip the straps and curl into a ball, relying on a deep core stability to heave our legs over our ducked head for ‘skin to cat.’ We hoist ourselves into a pull up and hold on for dear life. Then, we climb to the top. I try to find an internal rhythm as I inch my way up. Wrap ankle, push up, hand, hand…repeat. At the top, a flush of relief prompts a deep sigh. Suddenly, I wonder if I can get back down. I sway, hanging on by a thread.

Dangling from the ceiling, the straps callous my palms. Do I embrace the straps harder or resist them? I begin to wonder if I’m in control or at their mercy. I observe the characters in Promise struggle to identify themselves, struggle to hold on; I wonder if they also feel a lack of control. Is life a game of chance, our destiny determined by whichever way the straps swing? Or do we have the power to choose? Is there a sudden moment when a choice determines our fates, or is it simply an accumulation of choices up to that point? Is there a point of no return? Have we reached it?

Whether the choreography is on or around the straps, their presence is undeniable at dead center stage. We dance through and around them. We climb and circle them. They begin to represent a perpetual entanglement. Promise reflects the age-old motif good vs. evil in its biblical allusions and array of character traits. Therefore, these straps that can’t escape us seem to symbolize the struggle between these two extremes as the characters wrestle with their own choices.

If these straps represent an internal contention of right and wrong, then some characters are confined by this decision while others barely consider it. In Adam’s solo, he is tangled in the straps, wrapped up in his own discord, restricted and defeated. At times the straps hold too tight on the dancer’s ankles and we watch him literally struggle to untangle himself. This struggle becomes a reality for the character and dancer. He swings all around the stage dangling from them, possibly looking for answers, contemplating his identity. Not until he discovers Cathy does he escape these confines. Yet in the midst of his obsession he falls into the depths of her chaos. As he abandons the straps he collapses, at the mercy of her negligence. Cathy steps over and through the straps as if they’re mere filaments. She refuses to be tied down by anything, social constructs and societal norms aren’t even worth considering. Maybe the reason her evil nature delves so deep is due to this indifference to the straps, to all they represent. She ignores the opportunity to choose. Adam attempts to follow her through the straps in the same manner but gets caught up in their knot.

The ability to choose, to decide our own identities and fates, is a choice we embrace but which provides a constant inward struggle. If we aren’t damned or compelled to greatness, if we have the power to determine our destiny, can we handle it? Is there a balance between Adam’s confinement and Cathy’s negligence?

Every Tuesday as the dancers climb the straps they show more strength, they develop a control and perfect their choreography. Time, practice, and will create a balance. So as I hang by a thread I know to rewrap the strap around my ankle until it’s snug and secure. Then I inch down, carefully deciding the placement of each finger. Straps are not often used on stage because they’re difficult, rough, and unforgiving. Maybe these very characteristics are why they fit perfectly in Promise as the dancers and characters struggle to find themselves. The straps exude an ambivalence and rawness so they don’t engulf the stage with a “ta-dah.” Instead, they quietly hover at the center of our world, certain of their significance. With a driven persistence, we climb them again and again. We sway and struggle as we hang by a thread.

Friday, March 20 at 7:30pm with Kristina Isabelle
Saturday, March 21 at 7:30pm with Leopold Group
Tickets: $30, Buy on-line

Master Class with Company Dancer and Rehearsal Director, Zada Cheeks
featuring choreography from Promise
Saturday, March 21 at 5:00pm
Fee: $25, includes free ticket to see Promise, Buy on-line

All events: Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, Chicago
More info

Heather Marotti graduated from the University of Arizona with a BA in Creative Writing and a minor in Dance. She recently moved to Chicago to further pursue her interests, and loves combining them in this blog. As an associate dancer with Winifred Haun & Dancers she has documented our development of Promise. In this blog she shares pieces of our journey to transform the characters from John Steinbecks’s book, East of Eden, into kinesthesia and analyzes the themes in their stories as an allegorical microcosm of our current world.