For Juliebeth Ingraham, dance is more than a physical expression.
Ingraham choreographed a performance based on her journey of loving someone with a terminal illness. For Ingraham, the process was therapeutic but also challenging. The show “3 Weeks: My Father’s Last Dance,” opened last weekend at the 418 Project in downtown Santa Cruz. Ingraham brings the last three weeks of her father’s battle with cancer to the stage through a wide array of movements, music and vocals.
After receiving the title of Next Frontier Artist last March, Ingraham began choreographing a performance to share the experience of her father and their relationship. The Next Frontier Artist is a 418 program for a developing performer who receives the facility for production and rehearsals as well as a team of technical support and artistic mentors to put on their first full-length production.
Ingraham first began to work on her production when she flew to Pennsylvania to visit her father in the hospital.
“I would ask him a bunch of different questions,” she said. “I was just kind of observing how it affected the entire community and family. I created words or feelings around him and created the movement that presented that quality.”
In the performance, movements vary in tempo and feeling. In “Walking Down the Street,” the performers cross the stage at different speeds that range from slow and methodical to sharp and hurried. The scenes continued through the events of the three weeks, with many styles of dance, such as the electrifying movements seen in “Nerve Damage.”
Although the process of production began last March, not all the choreography was planned out over that time period. Ingraham choreographed the final piece of the show a few days before opening night.
“My body wasn’t ready to examine that part, it was fresh and raw,” Ingraham said. “I feel like I was very spontaneous with the movement. I would come to rehearsal and just let my body do what it needed to do.”
Ingraham was not the only participant in the performance who could relate the emotion of dance and movement to her own experiences. Jonathan Parvis, a dancer in the show, had his own experience losing someone close to him.
“I just recently had lost a friend to cancer about a month before the performance,” Parvis said. “So everything is really fresh and poignant to me and at times difficult to work through.”
Parvis said he was honored to work with a friend who was going through her own process of grieving.
“A process of acceptance, the true celebration of life is really amazing to me,” Parvis said.
Another highly premeditated aspect of the performance was the music. Wireless Lovebird, who produced the music and sound design for the performance, accompanied a piano and other tools with sounds that went in harmony with the dances. The instruments were an important aspect of the emotions of the performance, ranging from an untuned piano to a call bell. He views the piece as an important mode of self expression.
“You’re trying to get your point across and find that words don’t work,” Lovebird said. “Trying to communicate with words is a tool that doesn’t really do its job anymore, but thankfully we have our art forms.”
The music accompaniment charged the emotional expression through changing speeds, intensity and volume.
Many of the performance pieces formed a finished puzzle, but Ingraham remembers that her father was the driving force.
“There were a lot of different layers that happened,” she said. “He’s a musician and artist himself and he pushed me to do it.”
The performance schedule will continue into this weekend on Oct. 19–20 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.