Rosie Herrera Dance Theatre: Make Believe
Friday, Jul. 6 & Saturday, Jul. 7
Reynolds Industries Theater, Durham

Choreographer Rosie Herrera still has the power to astonish us. If she retains her usual ability to effectively edit her own work, then Make Believe, which had its world premiere Friday night at the American Dance Festival, will become one of her most notable achievements.

In a post-performance conversation, Herrera candidly admitted that the company had still been at work on the piece just before its premiere, and that significant edits remained in store before its second iteration Saturday night.

That was heartening news. Though Make Believe easily has the broadest scope of any work Herrera has attempted to date, some of its sequences lingered noticeably beyond the points they made. An artist with this many questions about the nature of belief—in humanity and deity, as well as the truest relationships and loves we’re capable of—needs a firm directorial grip to explore them all in a single evening.

In the seventeenth century, poet John Donne based his famous metaphysical conceits of romantic and holy love on a collection of improbable objects, from a mathematical compass to a common flea. Four hundred years later, Herrera also turns to ubiquitous and odd devices in her equally earnest metaphysical and metaphorical pursuits. In her performers’ hands, ordinary phones provide nearly magical illumination for a series of mysterious mid-show tableaux.

Given the primacy of surprise in Herrera’s far-reaching inquiry, it would be inexcusable to disclose the evening’s largest metaphor for the relationships we construct. Still, two hints shouldn’t go too far: It’s a commonplace sight at most carnivals, and it takes up most of the stage. We gazed upon it in sheer disbelief, until it registered, after a weird combination of puppetry and choreography—yeah, we are kind of like that, after all.

Though our age seems intent on testing our deepest faith in one another, Herrera suggests that the sheer buoyancy of belief might see us through. Here’s hoping.