People have been predicting the death of hand-written letters at least since the birth of the telephone. And over the past couple of decades, the rise of e-mail and social media hasn’t done any favors for the art of the epistle.
But Maree ReMalia – herself a life-long writer of letters – is curious what that latter change has meant. Along with New York-based multimedia artist Gigi Gatewood and Washington, D.C.-based performer Lillian Cho, the Pittsburgh choreographer has created “A Letter Compiled From All Letters,” a multi-disciplinary dance work that explores the issue.
“We were kind of talking about the contrast between the kind of intimacy that happens in person to person between letter-writing, and how that’s different than when you’re sharing information, posting with anybody who happens to see it,” says ReMalia of the creative process, which began 18 months ago. “And so we were just kind of curious about the ways that’s impacted our lives.”
Research included soliciting friends and acquaintances for – yes – letters describing how digital communication has changed their lives. The 25 letters they received inform the finished show.
“We were sort of really touched and impacted by the level of intimacy of that exchange, and I feel like that’s come into the work in terms of how [letter-writing is] sort of a precious moment, that maybe we don’t experience that kind of intimacy in the same ways as often,” she says.
The 55-minute work is impressionistic rather than narrative. Seven performers interact with projected video, original sound design, and sets including wheeled wooden frames with scrolls of white paper that serve as additional small video screens.
Along with ReMalia and Cho, the performers include David Bernabo (who also contributed the sound design), Jil Stifel, Moriah Ella Mason, Joseph Hall, and understudy Sarah Friedlander. The video is designed by Bernabo and Gatewood. The set is by Natalia Gomez, with costumes by Emily Vallozzi. ReMalia emphasizes that while the concept was generated by her, Gatewood and Cho, all the participants contributed to the creative process.
ReMalia also teaches dance at Point Park University. She says “A Letter Compiled From All Letters” isn’t meant to say one style of communication is better, but rather to get people to think about how changing modes can remake us. She’s noted differences in herself.
“In my own life I feel how my kind of attention has changed,” she says. “Things happen so quickly, and I spend less time with things. I think, as an introvert, that I actually really like the act of letter writing: being able to sit and pause, and take time and think about one person.”
The show gets three performances, starting Thursday, at the New Hazlett Theater. Ticket info is here.