The star of the show was backstage, getting ready for her entrance. No matter that backstage, in this case, is a hidden clearing amid the trees and stone at Settlement Quarry in Stonington — and no matter that the prima ballerina here is a giant porcupine puppet made of metal and bamboo. At this show, the dancers aren’t necessarily human.
“She’s in her elemental form right now. She’s a skeleton. She’s almost like a spirit,” said master puppeteer Mia Kanazawa, a Brooksville resident and creator of the human-powered porcupine along with her husband, sculptor and welder Mark Kindschi. “She represents to me a very primal occupant of the quarry. She claims it as her own, and she’s very protective of it and her brood.”
Another “story at the quarry” has started to unfold this summer, in much the same way that it did in the summers of 2006 and 2007, with the multidisciplinary site-specific performance piece “Quarryography.” The sequel to “Quarryography” — “Q2: Habitat” — will be previewed this Friday and Saturday at Settlement Quarry in Stonington.
A joint venture of Opera House Arts at the Stonington Opera House and Island Heritage Trust, the piece is a two-year project that has been in process this summer with professional and local dancers and musicians. The final production is set for the summer of 2010. “Q2” again combines the vast talents of Kanazawa, choreographer Alison Chase and composer Nigel Chase, and tells the story of the many creatures that have made the quarry their home.
Where the original “Quarryography” told the story of the basic elements of the quarry, “Q2” is the next chapter, focusing on the many residents of the quarry — from porcupines to humans, all with their own needs and motivations.
“We don’t really start with a specific story line,” said Chase, a Blue Hill resident and a founding member of the world-renowned Pilobolus Dance Company, based in Connecticut. “We know the rough story. It’s about habitat, and cohabitation, and displacement. It’s about all the creatures and people that use the quarry, from fishermen and tourists to animals. We haven’t found all the links between all the different parts. The thing that drives us forward is finding those links.”
“We give ourselves permission to be really fluid, and to experiment and grope and be inspired to try new things,” said Kanazawa. “We’re not going to lock ourselves into something that’s polished or in any way finished.”
To that end, Kanazawa and Chase let their imaginations run free, allowing themselves to picture multitudes of strange, beautiful things in the natural amphitheater that is Settlement Quarry. Besides a stunning vista of Webb Cove, the space offers many unique possibilities for movement and staging.
It also allows the pair to bring in bigger, wilder elements to the piece. As with “Quarryography,” Stonington-based heavy-machine operator Rick Weed will use his excavator for something other than its intended purpose: It will be another dancer in the show. Most notably, in “Quarryography,” Weed brought to life Kanazawa’s Cableman puppet — a 25-foot-tall anthropomorphic piece of simulated steel cable.
For “Q2,” Weed again will scoop dancers up in his bucket, and perform a pas de deux with a big puppet, in this case the giant porcupine. Weed also will be joined by another heavy machinery operator — tow truck driver Charlie Peabody, who owns Charlie’s Towing Co. in Stonington. Just as Weed was game for getting involved in the creative process, Peabody too is putting his skills to work.
“It’s different, that’s for sure,” said Peabody. “But you know, you use a lot of the same skills towing cars as you do doing this here. I know how my truck works, so I can help them with that. And [they’re] such great people to work with.”
Weed and Peabody are seemingly unlikely partners with Chase and Kanazawa. But they’ve become as invaluable to the process as any of the many dancers, who travel from all over the country to be a part of the show.
“Both Rick and Charlie get our craziness. They understand the process,” said Chase. “Rick is very involved in making his scenes work. Charlie is already suggesting new ways in which he could use his truck to winch and pull different things. We have lots of minds working on things. It’s an incredible process.”
Returning dancers this year include Matt Kent, Rebecca Darling, Emily Kent, Wendee Rogerson and Tawanda Chabikwa. They portray many quarry inhabitants, everything from baby porcupines, eagles and gulls to “people from away,” looking to snap up expensive coastal property. There are also a number of community members dancing in the show. After all, the quarry belongs to everybody — and the people in the show reflect that.
“There are so many different people and species that inhabit this space,” said Chase. “I remember last time, as we were packing up to leave one evening, a group of people who were camping below our space came up to watch the sunset, beer cans in hand. They didn’t even know we were there. That just speaks to how many uses different people and creatures have found for it.”
Despite its seemingly immovable, unchangeable nature, the vast granite quarry is very different from what it was just a few years ago. Even stone isn’t immune to the forces of change.
“This planet is very different than it was 20 years ago. The quarry is very different than it was 20 years ago,” said Chase. “It’s not a value judgment. It’s not saying that we, as humans, have changed it for good or worse. It’s just that there’s a chain of changes that have happened, and that’s what we’re trying to illustrate.”
What you should know
Audience members are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets in advance and to car pool as there is limited parking at the Settlement Quarry. Because the 2009 presentation is only a 30-minute preview of work-in-development, shuttle service will not be provided from downtown Stonington. Annotated maps will be available upon purchase of advance tickets, and are available online at www.operahousearts.org.
Those driving to the quarry will be directed to parking and may need to walk as much as a half-mile to get to the performance area.
Audience members with accessibility needs may be dropped off at the performance entrance, and will be shuttled to the rim of the amphitheater, making the performances fully accessible for all. Audiences will be admitted to the performance area no earlier than 5 p.m.
Work-in-development performances of “Q2: Habitat” will be at 6 p.m. Friday, Aug. 7, and 2 and 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, with a rain-date performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 9. Tickets for the rain date available only at the gate. All tickets for the performance are $10; Deer Isle-Stonington school students attend for free. Tickets may be purchased in advance online at www.operahousearts.org or by calling the Opera House box office at 207-367-2788.