Yard art

Mowing a whimsical pairing of dance and lawn care

A whimsical paean to the gentle summertime polka of lawn maintenance, the GardenHouse Dance Company's Mowing drew an appropriately tidy, home-owning crowd to Morningside's Sunken Garden Park on a recent balmy Sunday. Yuppies with spawn perched their own butts, firm from years of lawn mowing and stroller pushing and other repetitious domestic tasks, on a fire ant-colonized hillside to watch choreographer Nicole Livieratos' ode to Atlanta's archetypal green and tended spaces. Owing to erratic summertime rainfall and other au natural stage craft issues, the pattern cut into Sunken Garden's grass, created by local landscape designer Scott Pluckhahn, was a bust, though that weather-jinxed circumstance in no way detracted from the controlled lunacy of Mowing.

Dressed in prim white pants and tops, miraculously free of grass stains, the quartet of dancers, three women and one man (Courtney Adams, Saskia Benjamin, Kathleen Matuszewich, Dean Williams), begin by mowing a neat four-square grid on the theoretical stage/lawn carved out by Livieratos. Their amusingly functional movements are accompanied by a repetitiously quirky composition by local musician Klimchak, which underlays the initially too-too Merchant Ivory scene of summer white and emerald lawn with a kooky Edward Scissorhands suburban edginess, the whirring blades of the dancers' mowers adding another aural layer to the music.

In homage to traditional dance choreography, even amidst such witty nontraditional merriment, the dancers and mowers form romantic duets, as when Adams pairs off with Williams for an American Beauty pas de deux. Amidst the utilitarian trope of lawn care, Livieratos suggests amusing underpinnings of secret ardor lurking beneath ordinary activity and rich subtext beneath routine gestures, as when Williams surrounds the three lawn graces, mowing a proprietary fence around the female trio as if to suggest the lord of the manner carving out his domestic territory. At another point, Williams peels off from the group and has a Baryshnikov moment swinging and manipulating his mower like a metal Gelsey Kirkland.

The dancers' old-fashioned push mower props become inanimate partners as they switch from dancer to dancer in graceful passes across the lawn. At another moment, as if suddenly struck by a novel idea akin to the local maverick who replaces his green patch with a Zen rock garden, Williams instigates a mini-mower revolution, planting the device in the ground, handle down, to "play" the wheels, an infectious experiment that soon draws in the other dancers. Again, the representational, recognizable aspect of lawn care inspires similarly imaginative musings about Livieratos' underlying meaning in such gestures. The female dancers, quickly imitating the male dancer's experiment, recall the copy cat tendencies of home owners prone to similarly infectious patterns of mimicry in lawn care and garden design that spreads throughout the neighborhood like waterfall Christmas lights, Inman Park butterfly banners or "Slow Down Atlanta" yard warnings.

A dance that shifts between carefree ease as the grinning dancers effortlessly push their mowers, offering dexterous kicks or joyful bounces at their helm, and the suggestion of arduous labor when falls and mishaps enter into the choreography, Livieratos embraces the agility and grace of classical dance forms like ballet with the acknowledgement of work, as in the huffs and puffs of deconstructed modern dance.

A witty reassessment of a quotidian activity, Livieratos' Mowing joins a popular chorus of critical interest in the underpinnings and structures of our lives: the rituals of dinner, the politics of space, the psychology of urban sprawl. In a matter of fact manner, Livieratos says, "I just think the world around us is really charming."

GardenHouse Dance Company presents Mowing at West End Park Aug. 26 and Sept. 9 at 7 p.m.; at Sunken Garden Park Aug. 27 and Sept. 10 at 7 p.m.; at Woodruff Park Sept. 8, 15 & 22 at 12:30 p.m. Admission is free. Call 404-870-0117.

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