Go ahead. Get ready to add another name to that choreographers shortlist for the region. But when you do, put a major question mark by the company that showed her work last weekend in Chapel Hill.
For if none of the pieces in the annual MODERNEXTENSION concert had aspired to more than boilerplate, recital-grade dance routines, we conceivably could have written off the show–and the group–without need of mention in the press. But when guest choreographer Heather Tatreau’s droll “notes from the C train” clearly demonstrated what this undergraduate group could accomplish, even in short order, under the direction of a determined artist, the shortcomings in ensemble discipline, artistic vision–and, obviously, curation–that plagued most of this evening appeared more a matter of unfulfilled potential and poor choices than outright necessity.
When the lights came up, a form that first suggested a rickshaw in red silhouette in the far right corner of the Memorial Hall stage was found to be a strange septet instead: six would-be puppetmasters in black, pulling on thick black cords attached to the extremities of balletic dancer Eleni McCable.
But the anticipated trope about oppression dissolved into comedy as her wranglers became ensnarled themselves while snaking around, stepping over, under and through an increasingly tangled web of ropes without much intervention or resistance on the part of their captive.
Once McCable’s character found her freedom and sidled off the far side of the stage, the others slowly followed in transit, but not pursuit, as middle passages explored the remaining group’s increasing preoccupation with the status quo. Crisply choreographed and clearly executed ensemble sequences suggested the uniform sways, swerves, bounces and overhead handholds of commuters on a train. In the midst, individuals fell–or perhaps were pushed–to the floor. In some cases, their fellows brought the fallen one back; elsewhere, some struggled to claw their way back into the group.
But the increasingly pronounced scissored legwork that followed–and the repetitive floor and upper-body gestures accompanying them–ultimately suggested that this was a group of goth ballerinas suffering an obsessive-compulsive disorder of some sort.
The sly critique of the corps de ballet was interrupted by the reappearance of McCable’s character. As the others wobbled about her–imagine a ballet sequence for Weebles, those egg-shaped toys of yesteryear–McCable’s character literally learned how to pull her own strings, manipulating her leg movements by pulling at their ropes with her hands. Her reward for this came from dancer Ayofemi Hunter-Kirby, who repeatedly bopped her about the head and shoulders at center stage.
The rather ragged close of Tatreau’s work suggests a production process out of time more than a work that has found its end. But the wit and execution of all that came before speaks to an artist underutilized up to now on the regional stage. Remember her name.
E-mail Byron at firstname.lastname@example.org.