By Sara Bookin-Weiner
“This is the most important part of Angel Reapers,” director/choreographer Martha Clarke tells me, “—the dogs are happy.” She then feeds her two adoring Pomeranians each a treat.
She’s clearly kidding, and I quickly realize it’s difficult to say what the most important part is of this new “Shaker musical.” In collaboration with Pulitzer, Academy and Tony Award-winning writer Alfred Uhry, MacArthur Genius Clarke’s theatrical combination of song, dance and storytelling showcases dancers who must master a variety of skills. They sing Shaker hymns a capella, portray historical figures, keep time with complicated rhythms, all while dancing their spiritually zealous hearts out.
On this particularly muggy Monday in late September, I’m lucky enough to observe Clarke rehearse her performers in a spacious Manhattan rehearsal studio. As a huge fan of her work (after seeing her masterpiece Garden of Earthly Delights ), I wondered both what she was like as a director/choreographer in process and wanted to know more about this new piece.
The eleven company members gathered around the piano to stretch during their vocal warm up. Clarke walked around the circle, hugging each performer hello as her own fan club (the two dogs) happily trotted behind her. Since costume fittings were scheduled for later in the afternoon, Clarke decided rehearsal should be a clean-through to fix any problem spots. This meant that I wouldn’t get to see as much, but I was excited nonetheless.