San Francisco choreographer Della Davidson visited Santa Fe in 2001 and saw Grottesco’s "This is Life as We Know it…" Here was a theater company that moves. She had a dance company that acts. She proposed a collaboration and had a relationship with Chilean writer Isabel Allende. Grottesco Artistic Director, John Flax, is a longtime fan of Magic Realism.
We began with a dozen or so performers: Della’s core dancers and actors, many of the Grottesco actors with movement backgrounds. We got together every couple of months for an intensive week or two. Several years passed. The group whittled itself down. Della took a position at UC Davis and started a company called Sideshow Physical Theatre. We decided to interweave three Allende short stories into a sensuous, tropical dream reflecting the passions of all three stories. Della brought in long-time collaborators Ellen Bromberg, video artist, David Moon, technical director, Sandra Woodall, costumer, and Richard Marriott, composer. We landed a Rockefeller MAP grant.
We spent long hours developing a physical overture with the performers sitting in chairs at the edge of the stage, entering and interacting, building to an intensity that reflected the entire show. The actors were swept up in the bold choices and strong musicality that the dancers were used to working with.
The university let us shoot underwater scenes in a pool, the prop master nailed every engineering challenge, and a professor from the literature department became our dramaturg. Discovering Allende’s place in the world of Magic Realism was revelatory.
A Dream Inside Another was Grottesco’s first major collaboration. The learning was deep and wasn't what we imagined when we began.
“I was challenged and changed as an artist forever. The two companies combined had such synergy! I often wondered, "Is this how rock stars feel?" If Della or John told me to jump off the stage to surf the audience, I would have! We played hard and made art in powerful ways.
The night someone pulled the fire alarm in the Mondavi Theatre and the audience and performers were evacuated, has to be a highlight. When the fire department allowed us back into the building, Rod came on stage (as the little girl) and didn't just pick up where he left off. He went into an improv about how her Mama never did anything, and she had to do everything. Clean the house, cook, pull the fire alarm. The audience roared!" —Kerry Mehling- SideShow Physical Theatre
“I have always felt blessed to have worked on “A Dream Inside Another.” Being able to work full time in Davis was an amazing experience. I learned I could move, I could dance, I could write while working on this piece. And the relationships created with my fellow artists have shaped my work and will continue to shape who I am as a performer.”
—Mona Malec, Theater Grottesco
"Performing A Dream Inside Another was magical, epic, challenging, luscious, sensual, fun, and mysterious. And while this describes every production I was part of that Della Davidson directed/co-directed, the ADIA creation process was particularly life-changing for me.
Something about the collision of Sideshow Physical Theatre and Theater Grottesco pushed all of us beyond our comfort zones and into new artistic territory. It was not easy, but it was rich. Rather than a "dance" company incorporating some theater, or a "theater" company incorporating some dance, we were faced with a much more subtle and complex puzzle about how our art forms intersected.
Traveling with Grottesco and Sideshow to the National Gathering of the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET) in Blue Lake, CA radically altered the course of my artistic path. I had no idea this world existed. The Ensemble Theater community gave me language to describe the work I had been working towards during all of my years as a choreographer. The sophisticated responses to our ADIA excerpts made me feel like I had finally "found my community." It was exhilarating to find this comradery in the trenches of performance experimentation. Soon after, I founded my Bandelion ensemble, which has been going strong for 15 years, always at the edges of interdisciplinary boundary-blurring. And I've found myself continually returning to the questions we raised in this project. Through the NET, we were able to secure funding for exchanges between Bandelion and Grottesco, and then I joined the ensemble that created Grottesco's “The Moment of Yes”.
I am forever grateful for Della's legacies. I bow with reverence to the divine mystery of artistic match-making, and look forward to more!” —Eric Kupers, Sideshow Physical Theatre
“A magical realism for the stage”.
ADIA was a dreamy, lyrical show, with underwater footage, gauzy curtains, a staircase that led nowhere and a sleepwalking logic weaving through multiple interconnected stories. Like a dream. But backstage was a nightmare. Racing into the next costume, setting the next scene, trying not to run into each other, grabbing props, placing chairs. The fire alarm forced us all (actors in costume and audience still trying to figure out if this was part of the show) to leave the building and wait for the all clear. I was barefoot. In a nightgown.
When we returned, we picked up where we’d left off and it was the best audience we had. That fire drill brought us all together, the shared experience bonded performer and audience and we all felt something unexpected and special that night. A magical realism in “real life”. —Rod Harrison, Theater Grottesco
"Not knowing that A Dream Inside Another would be our last major production with Della (who died suddenly in 2012), that production is frozen in my memory. I absolutely loved working with John, Rod and Mona and my Della gang, Kerry, Kegan, and Eric. It was surreal to be recognized in Santa Fe, the closest thing to a Rock Star moment I had ever experienced. Poetic images still flash in my mind: Kegan and Kerry walking slowly to an operatic interlude. Walking up that enormous hinged staircase with my parasol (and in heels!), the chaos and beauty of knocking over chairs and throwing myself around for that chair scene, and Rod emerging from the refrigerator in the opening scene—wondrous! I will be forever thankful for that time together and the show we all created!"
—Jane Schnorrenberg, Sideshow Physical Theatre
In memory of Della Davidson, 1951- 2012