Six companies, five concerts, four days. All told, it was a veritable flurry of dance forms on regional campuses–indeed, one so significant that even The News and Observer paid attention to it.
Actually, the N&O’s Orla Swift has been finally permitted to write about regional dance on a couple of occasions in the past month, for the which we genuinely rejoice. Dance insiders know how significant a shift in local live arts coverage this is–even if the N&O’s own readers don’t.
But more on that anon. Why waste a perfectly beautiful day on the sins of local live arts journalism, when there is clearly no shortage of brilliant local dance to praise? So much so in fact that we’ll start our coverage of this unintentional dance festival here, and wrap it up next week.
Artistic director Beth Wright is nothing if not a good host. The lively interplay between a group of guest choreographers and dancers and her Peace College Dance Company made for a particularly interesting evening of work last week.
The chorus line of dancers slumped over each other’s shoulders at the opening of “Cool School” suggested a Busby Berkeley piece for slackers. Chrissy Pressley’s choreography to the Dave Brubeck chestnut “Take Five” suggested imaginative, angular takes on modern and jazz (music and dance) riffs. But the ensemble almost–but not quite–possessed the poise to pull off the closing attitude.
Guest choreographer Susan Quinn’s “Fully Furnished” hearkens back to nothing so much as a classic episode of The Twilight Zone. Black drapes cover all the furniture–including an upholstered chair, a coffee table and a floor lamp–in what appears to be an attic apartment of the imagination. All of these items tremble from time to time, which is appropriate since dancers underneath the drapes actually form the furniture Quinn and dancer Bridget Kelly sit on and maneuver around in this work.
As the hours pass–courtesy of a woman bearing a clock like a Vegas showgirl between rounds of a heavyweight fight–a Quinn dressed in purple and pearls plays terribly not that polite a host to Kelly, a woman in dressed in white silk and a medical sling around one arm.
Kelly attempts to copy Quinn’s arm and leg movements–not the easiest thing to do with an arm in a sling–in increasingly awkward attempts to fit in. But Quinn’s character’s cordiality breaks down completely when she mimes opening a small object in the palm of her hand. Kelly struggles to see what it is, but Quinn’s character deliberately blocks her view with a shoulder or a sideways pull away. While this obscure object of desire is never defined, its main significance is that Quinn’s character has it to enjoy and Kelly’s character knows she cannot even see it.
Further inhospitalities occur. In places Quinn’s energetic on-stage manipulation turns Kelly into another arm chair form like the one draped in black. A choreographed struggle ensues in which Bridget reverses the situation–and becomes bored with the outcome.
Beyond a point we try not to envision the people who make the material objects which accessorize our lives. It’s more convenient when we can keep a metaphorically similar black drape over the foreign factory workers who make our Nikes and the minimum wager who prepares the food we eat. In Quinn’s eerie little attic, the tremors in the covered objects represent the people our social privilege reduces to mere furniture, or less. Quinn’s work reminds us that no matter how much we politically, economically and geographically strategize to keep them out, if the things they make are in the room with us, they are there as well. They don’t always take kindly to being sat upon.
The sinuous ensemble work in artistic director Beth Wright’s “Lifeforce” contrasts Quinn’s political character study. To techno dance music, the members of the group describe a human chain and a transport mechanism which lifts each company member across the Leggett Theater stage. After coded moves deposit the group in a mass in the upper right hand corner, one touch animates them all, and the serpentine mass slowly roils upward and outward towards center stage. Sequential movements connect the ensemble throughout the work.
Guest performance artist and dancer Julee Snyder brought Tiffany Rhynard’s “Root” to stage thereafter. It’s one of the most arresting works of the season, a strongly imagistic performance in an evening with no shortage of strong images.
At the outset, Snyder stands alone on stage. Surrounding her are a series of boxes, whose sides are painted in red, yellow and brown. Strings attached to their lids extend to the waist of Snyder’s red dress. The strings twisted as they wind their way up, make a helical pattern around the lower part of her dress.
As Anne Dudley’s Requiem plays, Rhynard’s choreography has Snyder’s fingers walk from the top of her spine overhead, then down the front of her face, as her counter-clockwise movements unwind the strings around her legs.
Suspense grows, as Rhynard’s movements around the circle tug at the boxes. While her fingers delicately choreograph the air, we tend to focus on the boxes: what’s in them? What happens when they open? Why do we anticipate an outcome like that of Pandora?
At least some of our questions are answered soon enough when the boxes fall and their lids trail Snyder on a cross-stage transit. Leaves–yellow, brown and dry–scatter across the floor. After wriggling out of the red band connecting the strings to her body, Snyder crawls back to the realm of leaves.
A passage towards the end recalls a David Grenke motif of several years ago. Her character repeatedly rises, ever further, from the floor, only to always fall back down in an arc, over the waiting leaves. The existential implications of the sequence, to brooding music, resist easy translation.
Still, choreographer and performer both should be advised that the work lingers overlong on a couple of plateaus, a situation which might call for further examination of how “Root” ultimately builds. At times we also look for more information than the koan given here–about the character’s relation to the boxes, her responses both to them and her situation. While it would obviously be a mistake to splice in horse-opera histrionics–a hand raised to forehead, as in “Camille,” for example–the possibilities of a general overstoicism might bear examination.
Monique Newton and NC State’s Dance Visions closed the concert with the mischievous “Welcome to Da Joint.” This r&b roux of hip-hop and modern dance forms builds on the inspired chaos of a roomful of partygoers in various stages of decorum. Worlds collide in this dance-hall pinball machine, as folks built on stylized–if frequently disrespectful–gestures interlock, disconnect, and, generally, groove. A comedic, choreographically complex and genuinely interesting cross-section of cliques engage in social editorials on the hoof, toasting and just plain having fun in Newton’s universe. Cool enough for our first encounter with Dance Visions, and guaranteed not to be our last.