“We Wait in the Darkness” is about sensory immersion. The solo piece created and performed by Rosy Simas, which opened Wednesday night at Red Eye Theater in Minneapolis, delves into the realm of memory, using dance, sound and film to craft a total experience that draws upon a family story as well as themes of loss, connection and resilience.

This is a generous and personal work on many levels — it’s as if Simas has flung open the door to her subconscious and invited the audience inside to have a look around. She moves deliberately in this dream world, sometimes dancing with her eyes closed, seeming to summon the past so that it can be realized and understood, if not transformed, in the present.

Simas, who is Seneca with ties to the Allegany and Cattaraugus Reservations in New York, references significant events in the life of her late grandmother Clarinda Jackson Waterman, including the submersion of long-held family land to make way for the Kinzua Dam during the 1960s. But don’t expect a literal rendering. This is dance poetry.

The artist relies on the relationship between movement and sound to make her point. Composer François Richomme’s beautifully textured score surrounds the audience. Voices, wind, ticking clocks, the rush of flooding water are rendered with individual clarity and then mixed into a vibrant symphony.

Simas’ mother, Laura Waterman Wittstock, reads excerpts from the elder Waterman’s letters, some giving advice about how to raise the young Rosy. A large DNA spiral double helix, made from paper, dominates one corner of the stage.

The black-and-white films (by Simas with Douglas Beasley) have a grainy and aged quality, as if they were shot decades ago. Projected onto handmade paper screens, these flickering images prove particularly effective when Simas, wearing an old-fashioned white dress, is part of the films herself, dancing across the dimensions.

Simas ends the evening by carefully tearing up a map of territory portioned into sections — a reference to the land her family lost through government appropriation and internal strife. As she scatters the pieces (or hands them out to audience members) we feel the heartache of the sectioning and distribution. This is more than one woman’s story.

“We Wait in the Darkness” has a companion exhibit at All My Relations Gallery, open through July 13.

 

Caroline Palmer writes about dance.