Never Quite Gone: Ghosts of Home in ‘Salutations’

Photos by Joy Jacobs

Most dance documentaries don’t feature open expanses of field, long stretches of highway and desolate desert landscape. Salutations is a little bit different. The hour-long film documenting Seattle-based dance company CabinFever’s 2014 tour of site-specific performances down the West Coast features a mélange of places from the arid landscape in New Mexico to an old neighborhood in San Francisco. It is a film about coming and going, about the deep ties we feel to the idea of “home.” Digging deeper into that idea, choreographer and CabinFever founder Elana Jacobs uses dance not just for performance, but as a tool for exploration. After learning the varied stories and histories of the featured residences and weaving them into the pieces (which are created on the spot in 24-48 hours) she pulls them out of memory and into a new and vibrant, albeit short, life. 

Salutations starts out in Carnation, Wash. at the family tree farm of Roger Thorson a soft-spoken man with a large light-filled barn and enormous respect for the past. In interviews, Thorson recalls the strength and tenacity of the women in his family: tough homesteaders who kept things running smoothly on the farm, took care of the family and managed the household. Jacobs takes this kernel of information and sows it into the piece she creates, finding connection with the strength of the women in Thorson’s family and her own female dancers.

Connections like this underpin each section in the Salutations tour. As the company travels from Carnation to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver and Santa Fe, the documentary features interviews with performers and residents at each location, mostly friends and family of company members, who share personal stories not only about the spaces they live in, but also how these spaces have impacted their lives.

In San Francisco the company stops at Agape House, a century-old Victorian mansion that houses a community of individuals embracing the ideals of harmony, friendship and love. One of the residents shares her struggle with Multiple Sclerosis and talks about her journey into remission while living in the house, as well as a Hebrew song she has been meaning to sing to the house as part of the healing process. Jacobs invites her to sing at the beginning of the Cabin Fever performance, a haunting a capella melody that sets the tone for Jacobs’ mix of graceful and aggressive choreographysoft arm extensions emulate the feeling of a tender embrace, dancers run back and forth in the living room, echoing the frenetic nature of contemporary life. The mix of pedestrian and traditional dance movements allow for momentary lapse into familiarity and connection. Not everyone in the audience has done a plié or arabesque, but everyone has run, jumped, or been driven by joy into their own form of dance.

Infusing the performances with specific stories (from both current and former inhabitants of the various spaces) is a strong throughline in the documentary.  Videographer Joy Jacobs (Elanas sister) captures moments of natural, raw emotion—one woman tears up as she talks about her children growing up in their house, two brothers relate stories of playing in their backyard as kids. Even small moments, like a dancer drinking from a coffee mug or the flash of a messy room bring a relatable quality to Salutations. Yes, there is dancing, and it is raw and beautiful and contemporary, but unlike many dance documentaries this one takes the dancers out of the studio and places them in people’s homes, giving it breathing room, embracing the creative possibilities of dance and giving the often ignored histories of houses an unexpected second life through movement. 


Salutations: A Documentary Short {Trailer} from CabinFever on Vimeo.