Before I Was
Macie Stewart & Sima Cunningham (formerly known as OHMME)
Robyn Mineko Williams
Andrew Boyce and Robyn Mineko Williams
March 18, 2022; Pacific Northwest Ballet
The PNB World Premiere of Robyn Mineko Williams’ Before I Was is generously underwritten by Tim and Megan Kirley.
There is an intrinsic luminosity and wildness that lives in children. Their aptitude for wonderment, love, presence, silliness and living in uninhibited authenticity is something that fascinates me and I often find my grown-up self working to rekindle. Before I Was was sparked from a recognition of this innate “kid magic” and its shifts in radiance as life goes on. Built inside of the piece are flashes of reflection, sensations of push and pull and a stoking of the little fire inside that may return us to moments of fullness, awe and abandon.
Program note by Robyn Mineko Williams
To commune with the past and future self— a cyclical meditation we are not always cognizant of but is ever-present in our bodies. “Before I Was” draws on different eras of our creative lives— pulling from the earliest gestures of our partnership to some of our newer practices— sharing words, sounds, movement, ideas around in a circle— until a piece that stretches across dance and music emerges.
For us, this piece represents our first encounter with the ballet as composers. It was a thrilling challenge to bring our improvisational and experimental ethos into the renowned sphere of exquisite beauty and technique. It marks our second collaboration with the brilliant Robyn Mineko Williams, whose adventurous mind and loving guidance has centered and inspired us through this whole process. Though the music’s composition has in some way taken place over years, the core concept was arrived at by the three of us— Macie, Sima, and Robyn— sitting around a living room and talking about eras of the human spirit.
The first movement, ‘Furniture’, barges in like an uninhibited child— wearing joy on its sleeves, replete with sharp mood swings and happy melodies that repeat and learn from themselves— twisting into new expressions. The sung parts are some of the earliest elements we made as a band— simple mantras sung in unison, pulling apart into harmony, and returning back together. It is an imaginative piece that takes inspiration from the animation of objects, the necessity of creativity in enclosed spaces, and the excited wariness and curiosity of the unknown.
“Bulletins” is a more measured and cautious movement. The teenager— if you will. Its simplicity veils a quiet struggle with self-editorialization and free expression. It is self-awareness, and the evolution of pure gestures when one becomes aware that they are being watched. Loosely inspired by R.D. Laing’s cerebral and maddening ’Knots’ poems, our original poem exists in the fabric of the piece but is not always voiced. Meaning breaks through at random and never in the same place.
The final movement, “Pebble”, embodies a grown confidence— an ability to both embrace and discard the past as needed; and to throw oneself, without guarantee, towards the future. Its maddening pace reflects a hungry sprint towards self-actualization and the resultant freedom. It mimics the breathing lungs of adult life— at times so expansive, layered, dynamic, and at times quite shrunken, simple, and direct..
We’re grateful to have had the opportunity to expand these ideas into such a great and powerful ensemble. We hope you enjoy the journey.