Nature is often the inspiration for art, less often the site for it. Last weekend, one of the region’s most artfully landscaped estates — Ganna Walska Lotusland — also served as the setting for dance and music when choreographer Robin Bisio staged a new dance opera on the grounds.
Titled Bees Circling Heaven, this outdoor performance was designed to complement Swarm, a visual art exhibition inspired by the honeybee and on view at Lotusland now through May 4. Part homage to the insect, part ecological wake-up call, Swarm celebrates the beauty and mystery of the natural world. For Bisio, it was an ideal opportunity to place dance outdoors, and to explore some of her recurrent themes: ancient art, the divine feminine, and the animal kingdom.
Lotusland’s Theatre Garden is a verdant amphitheater carpeted in lawn and fringed with manicured hedges. Flanks of podocarpus fern serve as stage wings; a low, curving stone wall acts as apron. Indie rock band Ghost Tiger didn’t so much stride on stage as emerge from the shrubbery: willowy young people in deep greens and blues. Lead by the honey-voiced Alixandra Macmillan-Fiedel, they played a few soft ballads before the dancers appeared: four barefoot beauties in short yellow dresses — abbreviated versions of 1930s gowns designed by costume artist Anaya Cullen.
The dancers began to spin and frolic, crawling through the grass, leaping through undergrowth, and occasionally curling up together. Grass clung to their bare legs, and mud smeared their backs. In the diffuse light of the overcast afternoon, as Macmillan-Fiedel sang of love and loss, the dancers squeezed their eyes shut, stuck their tongues out, and probed the grass with fingers and toes, like honeybees searching for pollen.
Over 100 years ago, Isadora Duncan began performing instinctive, barefoot dances both onstage and outdoors; she’s now seen as one of the pioneers of American modern dance. In fact, Ganna Walska is said to have designed the Theatre Garden at Lotusland after her garden in France where Duncan once danced — an echo Bisio openly acknowledged Saturday.
For Bisio, as for Duncan, beauty isn’t achieved solely through the imposition of order; it’s already there in the majesty and muck of nature. Sweet, sensual, sweaty, and muddy: Bees Circling Heaven could have found no better home.