Donna Costello and Jenny Sargent are rehearsing the opening scene in their dance-theater piece Jitterbug and the Aftermath. On a bare stage at Catapult, they crawl over the backs of identical blonde wood chairs and eventually wind up on the ground with the chairs pulled on top of them. Costello hurls her chair to the side and it breaks, the seat skittering away from the body. Later they laugh as they put the chair back together with duct tape. Both chairs are covered in tape.
They've abused pairs of chairs in both New York and New Orleans in the four years they've spent developing Jitterbug. That seems fitting, because the initial inspirations for movement in the piece about women's bodies and identity came from recovering from injuries and physical therapy.
"I had been dealing with injuries that led me into the past," Sargent says. "It's kind of a trauma that's partly emotional that attaches to us physically. I was trying to heal from injuries. There's a physical presence, like a story in my muscles and tendons. We started these improvs and generated these movements."
Jitterbug debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday in Definitive Figures: A FemFest of Performance, which Costello and Sargent created based on some of the concepts in their piece. After the festival, they'll present the show at the EstroGenius festival in New York.
Jitterbug combines contemporary dance and physical theater, blending abstract movement and elements of clowning. Its tone and pace progress from slow contortions to waltzing and polka dancing to madness with Costello and Sargent jumping on the chairs with their hair pulled into twin ponytailed horns. In a segment titled "Birdspeak," they sound like society women hissing through clenched teeth, but the bit is based on physical therapy for recovering the ability to speak. Eventually they master the syllables and arrange them in a stark poetic scene about expectations of women and images of femininity in a condensed cradle-to-grave arc.
Definitive Figures also grew out of Jitterbug's extended development.
"We hoped to stay under an umbrella that's feminist and about the identities of women," Sargent says.
"We want to create something that will support our work, but not just our work," Costello adds. "How do we hold space for all these artists and perspectives and different ways of showing work?"
Since dance is a medium with many women producers and performers, they intitally reached out to choreographers and dancers. Jarrell Hamilton's Episodes features a black woman exploring her identity through time travel and invoking ancestral spirits. Maritza Mercado-Narcisse presents How to Make a Kitchen More Difficult at the Music Box Village. Shannon Stewart and Ellery Burton work together in The Screaming Traps' Relatives. Lisa Shattuck performs inside a 6-foot inflated ball in a piece using projection mapping. Titled 12, it explores how systems of measurement affect perception. New York-based performance artist Madison Krekel presents Drinking from the Devil's Punchbowl at the Music Box Village.
Music-based performances include multi-instrumentalist Aurora Nealand's solo piece The Monocle. The duo Spirit & Sparrow perform at the Music Box Village. There's also a performance by the comedy troupe Black Girl Giggles at AllWays Lounge.
An opening night gathering at 7 p.m. Wednesday with festival performers at Catapult includes a choir performance, food and more. There's a dance party at 10 p.m. Saturday at AllWays Lounge. At 2 p.m. Saturday, there's a panel discussion titled "Body, Persona and Identity — From Conversation to Improvisation," and it's followed by a movement and music improv jam.