Johanna Rose Burwell: Parcours
July 5–7
The Fruit, Durham

Parcours, the new performance piece that Johanna Rose Burwell (aka JoRose) premiered at The Fruit last week, is an exploration of the spiritual experience of growth in a physical world and the limits placed on it by the body, the mind, and society.

“This is a party, so enjoy yourself,” JoRose exclaimed as we took our seats. Indeed, the atmosphere felt like a party, and the venue was partly the reason. JoRose transformed an old loading dock in what used to be the Durham Fruit and Produce Company into her personal playhouse, equipped with an aerial hoop. Judging by the size of the audience, it’s clear that the Durham community is thirsty for theater.

Parcours is a self-directed solo show, and this, in its own right, is a shining achievement for JoRose. But there is a thin line between amateur and pro, and without a director or other professional guidance, the show sometimes dragged, and stage blocking was sometimes unclear to the audience. The beginning was slow and confusing. As a clip played from the old film Princess Tam Tam, starring Josephine Baker, whom Parcours is loosely inspired by, JoRose was behind a Shoji screen on the far left side of the stage. The song lasted for about five minutes, but it seemed longer, as many of us could not see JoRose. It wasn’t until later, chatting with another member of the audience, that I learned she was dancing behind the screen.

When JoRose finally came on stage, it was delight, but she often held her head down and looked to the ground, so it was hard to get a good visual read on any emotion that she was trying to convey, which ultimately left me disconnected from a performance that relied heavily on audience participation. In one scene, entitled “Rent Party,” about the struggle for most people to just pay their rent on time, JoRose played the song “Wobble” by V.I.C. and had audience members get on stage and dance. But as she played almost the whole song, we were waiting for her story to continue, and some audience members seemed tired of being on stage.

I would like to see JoRose be more confident and embody the fire of her energy and intent. Her aerial work seemed as if she weren’t fully committed to giving it her all, though she did some impressive tricks. On its first outing, Parcours was a mixed success in its expression of important messages about unity, humanity, and the soul. JoRose is a rising artist that should be taken seriously, especially in today’s political climate. With time and professional direction, she will cross the line from player to star. There will be no stopping her once she is fully polished.