If not for the group gathered round, you could possibly have missed her: reclining within the branches of a tree, as if dozing in her pure habitat, a lady adorned in feathers and tulle. On the brisk ring of a bell, she began to stir, arching her sinewy again, the start of a fragile descent all the way down to Earth from her snug perch.
This avian-human creature was the dancer Celeste Hastings, the primary of seven ladies to carry out in Richard Transfer’s “Herstory of the Universe,” which had its premiere at Governors Island on Saturday. A six-part, almost three-hour journey, the vivid, whimsical “Herstory” wends its method throughout the island, pausing at websites the place solos and duets emerge from the panorama.
Transfer (who makes use of they/them pronouns) is maybe greatest recognized for conjuring the fashionable dance matriarch Martha Graham, in religious, lovingly comedic performances that they’ve described as akin to spirit possession. (The time period “impersonation” irks them.) The marvelous “Herstory” solid, ranging in age from 22 to 64, consists of present and former Graham firm members — the elegant Natasha M. Diamond-Walker, the ferocious PeiJu Chien Pott. And the motion, choreographed in collaboration with the solid, borrows from Graham’s high-drama idiom.
At every cease on the roughly milelong scenic stroll, we meet one other determine (or two) within the mythic pantheon that Transfer has dreamed up, dropped at life with the assistance of Karen Younger’s fantastical costumes. In keeping with program notes, the characters draw inspiration from the ecology and structure of Governors Island, in addition to parts of Japanese, Indian and Greek mythology.
Exterior the Local weather Museum in Nolan Park — an elm-dotted garden encircled by Nineteenth-century homes — the Butoh-trained Hastings channels the laughing gull, a neighborhood seagull with a cackling name. Tentative at first, she gathers pace and abandon after plucking a mechanical chicken from beneath a nest of large eggs, a suggestion of giving and receiving life.
In “Devrai (Sacred Grove),” the formidable Megumi Eda slithers and bounds by way of the grass of Hammock Grove, a tranquil space set again from pedestrian walkways — and, for these quarter-hour, her kingdom. On the granite steps referred to as “the scramble,” which wind up the lately constructed Outlook Hill, Robyn Cascio clambers throughout the rocks or balances atop them, as if on a pedestal, assuming athletic, finely etched poses.
The phrase “site-specific” is typically thrown round, utilized to works that aren’t all that particular to their websites. However the vignettes that make up “Herstory,” which is the primary efficiency work commissioned by the Belief for Governors Island, are inseparable from their environment. On the summit of Outlook Hill, in “Demolition Angels,” Diamond-Walker and Gabrielle Willis scale a steep, grassy slope in diaphanous attire, unfazed by the terrain as they lunge and leap. Within the pressing “Amaterasu,” named for the solar goddess in Japanese mythology, Chien-Pott dashes alongside the switchbacks of Discovery Hill, at instances only a distant but still-radiant blur.
Within the grand finale, “Hamadryad,” the aerialist Lisa Giobbi embodies the titular tree nymph of Greek mythology, with a sweeping view of New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty behind her. Aided by Yoni Kallai, who controls her harnesses, she floats up and alongside the branches of a towering tree, reaching an otherworldly phantasm of weightlessness.
Whereas often plodding in its construction and timing, “Herstory” is a pleasing approach to spend a day and expertise the great thing about Governors Island; its glimpses of old-school theatrical magic outweigh any logistical flaws. Sadly, on Saturday, the insistent presence of a buzzing drone digicam — a part of a video documentation venture by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts — typically distracted from the work and its pure setting. It was a downside for individuals who have been there, however good, no less than, for future viewers, who will be capable to encounter “Herstory” lengthy after it has left the island.
Herstory of the Universe
By way of Oct. 16 on Governors Island; govisland.com.