Paufve Dance delves into the world of first ladies 

click to enlarge Exploring history: Jill Randall and Christy Thomas appear in  Paufve Dance’s “So I Married Abraham Lincoln.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy photo
  • Exploring history: Jill Randall and Christy Thomas appear in Paufve Dance’s “So I Married Abraham Lincoln.”

Paufve Dance’s “So I Married Abraham Lincoln” takes a look at something often overlooked: the first lady persona. A woman both in the spotlight and in the shadow, choreographer Randee Paufve’s meditation on the first lady jumps from ironic to bizarre to tragic.

Paufve weaves together dance, spoken text and song to create a haunting atmosphere rich in movement and sound. The cast of seven women includes Valerie Gutwirth, Rebecca Johnson, Katie Kruger, Mo Miner, Nadia Oka, Jill Randall and Christy Thomas.

The piece, onstage this weekend at Dance Mission Theater, acts more as a meditation on the hidden multidimensionality of first ladies — using Mary Todd Lincoln as a prototype — than as a historical chronicle of Mary Todd Lincoln’s life.

“There are aspects of Mary Todd Lincoln which are in every woman,” Paufve says.

The piece opens in the lobby of Dance Mission Theater, and travels through the back two studios before leading audience members to their seats in the main theater. In this way, Paufve aims to create a sense of intimacy and journey with her audience, leading them through the unsure world of high-profile women figures.

From the opening monologue, a sense of unease and derangement permeates the mood. The seven performers seem to simultaneously support and antagonize one another, manifesting the fractured self of Mary Todd Lincoln and of first ladies in general.

“Mary was ambitious, smart, educated, and unfortunately thwarted by her relationship with a man. She was mentally ill but also ahead of her time, and possibly ill because she was so thwarted,” Paufve says. “First ladies are visible invisible women; they’re showpieces. One misstep and they’re criticized for life.”

Prominent themes are suppression and decorum.

At one point, one of the dancers poses as if for a portrait while the others thrash wildly about, alluding to what a pose really holds, and the difference between seeming versus being.

Other themes include repressed sexuality, as a dancer discreetly bares her shoulder, or later as the dancers move slowly and almost sensually to loud techno music. Rarely outright, the piece seems to subtly hint at an underlying manic trapped right below a composed surface.

With a sound score by Heather Heise, lighting design by Gabe Maxon, set design by Jack Carpenter, costume design by Keriann Egeland and dramaturgy by Liz Lisle, “So I Married Abraham Lincoln” sheds light on the rarely considered circumstances of being in the position of first lady.

IF YOU GO

So I Married Abraham Lincoln

Presented by Paufve Dance

Where: Dance Mission Theater, 3316 24th St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $15 to $18
Contact: (415) 826-4441, www.paufvedance.org, www.brownpapertickets.com/event/212594

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Emmaly Wiederholt

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