Artist of the Week: Gretchen Huff and Marissa Mooney

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Reclaiming the essence of femininity as a strength, “Dollhouse” directors Gretchen Huff and Marissa Mooney want to portray the message that femininity is something everyone can celebrate regardless of gender identity or expression.

“Dollhouse” is a dance production taking place within the intimate settings of a home, featuring various artists and interpretative staging debuted Feb. 10.

Prior to her graduation from the University of Utah in 2014, Huff initially worked on the idea for “Dollhouse” as her senior piece. Mooney would then join the project as the two explored their own understandings and cultural norms regarding femininity. “We both had personal questions and were interested in regard to our own feminine experience and wanted to explore that,” Huff said.

“We were looking into how to connect with our femininity in an empowering way,” Mooney said.

Focusing on four feminine archetypes — Maiden, Mother, Wild Woman and Crone — “Dollhouse” is an interpretive dance performance in which the  home’s rooms, acting as the stage, are as interactive as the dancers. “There is a lot going on in this event,” Huff said.

“We are collaborating with a lot of female-identified artists,” Mooney said. “We wanted to be as inclusive as possible and showcase multiple feminine experiences.” Thus, throughout the performances, stories of other artists are also incorporated into the holistic piece.

Through a series of movement vignettes, each archetype is explored, supported by individual artists and a wide array of props, some of which are dirt, branches, candy in a bathtub and spoons plastered to a wall.

“We wanted to incorporate installations into the staging so that the audience can interact not only with the performers through movement, but also with the space,” Huff said. “Each room is an installation art project itself, plus performers, plus a dance.”

“The moves are all very choreographed, so it feels almost closer to a modern dance performance,” Mooney added.

With the four archetypes acting as framework, each room is a unique subject of exploration woven cohesively throughout the event.

For example, the motherhood archetype takes place in the kitchen with spoons and eggs as additional staging. “The purpose of this is to explore what motherhood looks like and its different elements of nurturing,” Huff said.

The wild woman piece takes place in the living room and is supplemented with dirt on the ground and hanging branches. “This archetype is about intuition and sensory experiences […] interacting with the dirt in a sensual way and being in tune with each other,” Huff said.

The crone archetype will be featured in the cellar and contains a unique spider web installation representing a matrilineal line of ancestry. The fourth and final archetype, the maiden, will be centered in a garden and bedroom focusing on rebirth, freshness, awakening and sexuality.

Ultimately starting a conversation about femininity and showcasing that it is powerful and important to address, Huff and Mooney are drawing on their own experiences to fuel the project.

“Femininity does not equal weakness…that is what I see in our culture and that is what I’ve grown up with all around me, [the message that] you can’t be empowered and also embody femininity,” Huff said. “We want to provide a place where people can embrace parts of themselves they might not feel comfortable with in mainstream society.”

“Dollhouse” is an outlet for expression and emotion. “Particularly now with our current political climate, people can feel more polarized and isolated than usual,” Mooney said. “I find it hard to know what I can do to help.”

In addition to exploring femininity, “Dollhouse” has the dual purpose of helping and reaching out to others. “It was really important to use to facilitate a safe space where artists could explore these ideas and create their own depictions,” Huff said.

With primary objectives involving analyzing and embracing femininity, as well as the dance performance aspect, “Dollhouse” might seem unapproachable to students who have little to no experience in those categories. However, the event provides an accessible and immersive experience into both creative endeavors. “[Dollhouse] is a good introduction to understand femininity and engage more into that conversation,” Huff said.

“Because this performance is so large and involves many different artists, I think it would be hard for at least one component of this piece to not resonate with a member of the audience,” Mooney said. “It is an incredibly versatile project.”

The performance is also a prime opportunity to support the local community and art. “Art is an important nurturing component of our community and it is important to support those people,” Mooney said.

“Dollhouse” was indeed an artistic endeavor and combined a myriad of unique attributes, one of which is the anti-formal set up of an open house previewing.

“There is not a start and end time,” Mooney said. “You can wander throughout the house and manage your time in the event how you’d like.” With artists in each room performing simultaneously, the audience is given quite a bit of freedom to explore in a non-restrictive atmosphere.

l.randall@dailyutahchronicle.com


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