The internationally acclaimed Pennington Dance Group (PDG) is a modern dance company based in Los Angeles, California. They promote dance through performances, education, and outreach programs and has a home base at the fabulous ARC – Pasadena.
Follow me as we journey through the world of Founding Director of PDG, John Pennington.
Renisha Marie: Let’s discuss the revival of Bella Lewitzky’s 1969 On the Brink of Time, where you are the only dancer in the world authorized by her to perform the piece.
John Pennington: It was when the company was closing and she asked, “Is there any piece you would like to do?” And I jokingly said, “I’d love to do your solo.” And she said, “Sure. I think you can do it.” So, I’ve been thinking that one should be careful of what they ask for. This was a piece that was on the cutting edge when it was made. Strobe lights had just come out and Morton Subotnick did the score. It was the first score made to a synthesizer; in 1969, it was on the cutting edge. One of the fun things was translating what was a solo for a female body onto a male body.
Renisha Marie: Tell us your concept behind ‘Ungoverned Spaces, Part 1,’ where anything is possible.
John Pennington: I was reading the newspaper and they use that term for all the places in Iraq and what they call a fragile state. And, I thought, Oh! That’s like dance and like life. You never know what’s going to happen. One minute you’re here and maybe the next minute you’re not. You get a phone call and suddenly you get cast in something and it could change your life. So, I thought how could I make a piece that I could deal with that kind of fragile space. It’s a duet. People disappear. They come back on. It’s done on two plexiglass stools. The idea is that they’re there; sometimes you can see them and sometimes you can’t; this idea of the space that keeps shifting and changing. The lights change and the music changes. It’s not chaos, but as an audience watches it they’re going to experience different things happening and it won’t follow logic for their brains.
Renisha Marie: What was your motivation behind ‘Company of Orbs’?
John Pennington: I have these very large lights and they were orbs. I have fifteen or twenty of them and I decided I wanted to make a dance based on an orb and what an orb meant; circularity, the most pure geometric shape. In the Utopian societies, most of their ground plans are built on a circle. All Kandinsky paintings; he was a painter from the 1930’s/40’s. He puts a circle in his paintings because he thought it was the purest of designs. I pulled in, wherever I could, ideas of circularity and design, but this idea of what is the perfect move; I don’t know if I achieved it, but that’s the idea of ‘Company of Orbs.’ It’s episodic. There are seven sections and they relate to each other. It’s different sections of William Duckworth’s music.
Renisha Marie: Now let’s discuss ‘Skins and Screens,’ which allows us to look both ahead and back. What made you want to expound so creatively such a blissful perception?
John Pennington: Oh, [chuckle] thanks. This is a piece I created ten years ago and I decided I wanted to revisit it and look at it again. It’s a piece that, when I was thinking about skins, not only what’s on the outside, but what’s on the inside. How do we look at what’s on the outside? Not just color of skin, but also what skin does. It breathes; it keeps things in, it keeps things out. The same idea with screens; you can see through them, but they serve two purposes. They keep things out and they keep things in. So, I was looking at that in terms of metaphor and in terms of the mind and also, even ten years later, were still dealing with even more intense issues of skin, of color, of people’s hearts. Particularly with the election going on right now. So, I think that dance can reflect a lot of what’s happening in culture and society. I wanted to remake some of the choreography, so I did. I re-choreographed sections and made it tighter and more precise. It’s one of my pieces that’s a little more metaphorical, but I think anyone who watches it with the idea of what is a skin and what is a screen will get something out of it.