Start with Japanese folklore and Greek mythology, toss in some puppetry, stir that up with dance and digital projection, and sprinkle in some original music. While you’re at it, tell the story of humanity. That’s the recipe for God Daughter, the latest creation of Los Angeles–based performance-art trio WIFE. This Thursday, May 3, the three will bring their creation to Santa Barbara’s Contemporary Arts Forum as part of the monthly Forum Lounge series.
“Our inspiration always comes from mythology,” WIFE member Kristen Leahy explained over the phone from Los Angeles last week. “We really like to read a lot of stories before we begin creating a piece.”
Leahy and her colleagues, Nina McNeely and Jasmine Albuquerque, are all trained as professional modern dancers — they met working for choreographer Ryan Heffington, owner of The Sweat Spot dance studio in L.A. In 2010, they decided to launch WIFE as a way to incorporate McNeely’s digital video expertise with performance.
The label of dance doesn’t quite capture the work they’re now creating, and traditional stages don’t necessarily fit it, either. So far, WIFE has frequented primarily nontraditional and underground venues, from nightclubs and bars to empty warehouses and gallery spaces. “We feel really comfortable in alternative spaces,” Leahy explained. “We do perform in theaters, but we’re interested in making any space into a performance space.”
A visit to the company’s Web site, wifewifewife.com, gives a sneak peek at one section of God Daughter; the three women stand on pedestals, where they appear like Greek statues, draped in robes. At first they’re entirely still, while shapes and symbols dance across their bodies. Then they begin to move, their feet still rooted in place. They twitch and slump, rock and sway, and their skirts serve as screens for a series of projected images: fields of flowers, swirling mandalas, creepy skeletal figures, colorful billowing clouds.
Though God Daughter looks like something that would be totally at home on La Playa, Leahy says they’ve never been to Burning Man and don’t think of themselves as influenced by the festival or its culture. Instead, she cites Jim Henson, children’s fairy tales, Japanese films, and butoh among WIFE’s primary inspirations.
Once the three women get into the studio, Leahy says their creative process looks a lot like play. “We have fun together. We play with movement until we find something we like,” she tells me. They often commission original music for their work, which they use as they begin to set movement. But always underlying this process is a sense of the myth or story they want to tell, even if it’s told in abstract terms.
“God Daughter is really a journey of humanity,” Leahy explained. “The whole story is about creatures that create the world and their journey of becoming human, which includes suffering. All the stories that influenced us are abstracted — it’s not intended to be a concrete translation.”
Since Forum Lounge launched in 2006, the series has focused on presenting multimedia performance artists whose work defies easy categorization. WIFE seems to fit the bill, and to Leahy, CAF feels like an ideal venue. “I think we’re branching outside the limitations of the dance community,” she said. “It’s dance, but it’s also more than dance.”
WIFE will perform God Daughter at the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum (653 Paseo Nuevo) on Thursday, May 3, at 7 p.m. The event is free. A happy-hour reception begins at 5 p.m. For info, call (805) 966-5373 or visit sbcaf.org. To learn more about the company, visit wifewifewife.com.