Man met machine for the first time at Rick Weed’s garage in Stonington last week. Weed, who’d just returned from a long, hot July day of work, shook hands with Felix Blaska, a Connecticut-based dancer and choreographer. Blaska was trained in France under the legendary Roland Petit, and has collaborated with some of the most acclaimed dance companies in the world. Weed has run a successful excavating business in Stonington for many years.
It was Blaska’s first time working with heavy machinery, but it was not Weed’s first time working with high-caliber dancers. The plan was for the pair to develop a symbiotic creative partnership, in time for their pas de deux during Opera House Arts’ production of “Q2: Habitat,” a six-night performance installation at Settlement Quarry in Stonington Aug. 3-8.
Weed and his excavator previously appeared in the first performance installation, titled “Quarryography,” which was previewed in 2006 and performed in full in 2007. “Q2” was previewed last year, and will be performed in full beginning Tuesday. Puppets, dancers, wild costumes and a steel drum band in a rough-hewn granite quarry — unless you went to the other performances, you’ve never seen anything like it.
During a recent rehearsal, Weed’s huge excavator rumbled and rattled its way into the wide gravel parking lot, extending its long yellow neck with attached digger, like an enormous mechanical elephant.
“Wow,” said Blaska, quietly, as he watched his dance partner arrive. “I didn’t know it was going to be that big.”
“You thought it was going to be a small one?” said Brooklin resident Alison Chase, co-founder of the renowned Pilobolus Dance Company and co-creator of “Q2.” “We don’t do small.”
Mark Kindschi, a local artist and husband to puppeteer and “Q2” co-creator Mia Kanazawa, affixed a sturdy metal pipe to the digger, bolting it in place and triple-checking it for safety. He hung a harness, on loan from the theatrical flying company Flying by Foy, from two lengths of steel wire affixed to the pole.
Blaska stepped into the harness and put on a special headdress, created by Kanazawa, of a great, long-necked bird. He grasped two jointed metal poles with spindly feet attached to the end. Chase signaled to Weed to raise Blaska up. It was time to fly.
Weed gently lifted Blaska about five feet off the ground. He hung in the air for just a few moments before assuming his character: an elegant, sinewy great blue heron, silently stepping across the shores of Penobscot Bay. Blaska moved like the bird; slowly, purposefully, eyeing small fish in the water with a reptilian grace. When he raised his arms, he flapped his imaginary wings. The transformation was remarkable.
“His vocabulary of movement is such that he can be very slow, and very deliberate,” Chase said of Blaska, who has worked with Pilobolus dance company in years past. “We were so thrilled to be able to bring him on board this year. He brings a unique, almost vaudevillian sensibility to everything.”
Chase and Kanazawa met with Blaska in New York City over the spring, and brought him the heron headdress and limbs, which he put on during their meeting in Central Park.
“We knew he was perfect as soon as we saw him move,” said Chase. “But Felix eventually said, ‘You know, I think I need to fly.’ Fortunately, we’ve got Rick to make that happen.”
“We originally envisioned the Heron as a kind of cranky old farmer or fisher, like someone who didn’t want any outsiders on the island,” said Kanazawa. “But he eventually developed into a kind of protector of the Quarry, and that’s what Felix [Blaska] brings to it. He’s very watchful and wary. The flying just adds to it.”
For his part, the affable, low-key Weed is now a seasoned professional in heavy machinery choreography.
“You know, I’m pretty used to working with these guys now,” he said. “I never know what they’re going to ask me to do.”
The basic story of “Q2: Habitat” is a story of place. The beings that inhabit the Quarry — from humans to herons, heavy machinery to porcupines — have used the space in different ways over the centuries. The quarry has accommodated them all, and “Q2” aims to reveal some of their stories, through Kanazawa’s puppetry, Alison Chase’s dance and music, composed by master steel drum player Nigel Chase, nephew Alison Chase and founder of the Pan Institute in Blue Hill.
In “Q2,” a company of dancers portrays everything from gulls to baby porcupines. Several dancers, led by principal dancer and returning “Q2” performer Matt Kent, will act as “primordials,” elemental spirits representing wind, clouds and rain. The dancers will helm the huge, 15-foot primordial puppets created by Kanazawa, as well as Quilla, the wood and metal porcupine puppet previewed in last summer’s shows. Other returning dancers include Stephanie Fungsang, Wendee Rogerson, a summer resident of Stonington, and Tawanda Chabikwa, a native of Zimbabwe and College of the Atlantic graduate. Additionally, community performers take on the roles of befuddled tourists, bird-watchers and other characters.
Most of the elements previewed last summer remain, alongside new things such as Blaska’s performance and the primordials. Just as Settlement Quarry has played host to multitudes of creatures over the year, so does “Q2” and the many different incarnations of Alison and Nigel Chase and Maya Kanazawa’s vision — which very well may return in 2012, with a new story and new characters.
“We always refine and rethink the story as time goes by,” said Alison Chase. “A lot of what we saw last year remains, but everything new just forwards the story along. They belong in the quarry.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: “Q2: Habitat,” an outdoor dance, puppetry and music performance installation.
WHEN: 5 p.m. Aug 3-8.
WHERE: Settlement Quarry, off Oceanville Road, Stonington.
TICKETS: $20, available at operahousearts.org, or call 367-2788.
REMEMBER: Audience members are strongly encouraged to purchase tickets in advance and to car pool as there is limited parking at the quarry. Shuttle service will not be provided from downtown Stonington. Annotated maps will be available upon purchase of advance tickets. Those driving to the quarry will be directed to parking and may need to walk as much as half a 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. Audience will be admitted to the performance area no earlier than 4 p.m.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the relationship between Nigel and Allison Chase.