January 11–13

The Fruit, Durham

By definition, a cutting edge is a thing in motion; without movement, nothing is cut. A choreographer or performer’s proximity to the threshold of discovery can be assessed in each movement, each work, each concert and season: in the degree to which they evince curiosity and commitment to exploration and risk or complacency within the comforts of the known. Inevitably, as artists extend the borders of dance, work that was once on its fringe becomes situated deeper in the landscape of the art form.

The structures and performance opportunities that support dance artists increasingly face similar scrutiny. In her press release for RAW, a striking showcase for five local dance artists that bowed at The Fruit January 11-13, Renay Aumiller, a choreographer well into her second decade in the regional dance scene, questioned the degree of engagement available both in and outside of the dance scene for artists who are “no longer emerging in the Durham dance community.” If the platforms and programs aiding younger choreographers do not adequately address the needs of those approaching mid-career, Aumiller asks, how can they “grow and challenge how we make dance?”

The answers proposed in RAW foregrounded the immediacy of process. We saw this in a terror of an opening segment, Murielle Elizéon’s relentless, sweat-drenched Cru, Fragments, and in Tommy Noonan’s deliberate framing of Knowing/Half Knowing/Not Knowing as a studio session devoted to generating new material.

Just as critical, though, was the proximity of the audience to the dancers. Closeness was key as we followed a trail of pennies to the underground room where Matthew Young performed Gut Reaction, an idiosyncratic but thorough exploration of a claustrophobic art installation featuring a pristine white toilet filled with pennies, its tank illuminated from within by a turquoise light. Young’s pensive, probing character charged the work with a curiosity left unsettled, unsatisfied, at its end.

Participation was equally crucial in other works. At points, Noonan’s Knowing overtly cued (and, sometimes, commented on) our unanticipated reactions; of the evening’s quintet of showings, it seemed most organically in touch with the audience. On the decidedly inorganic side, in Aumiller’s humorous Out of the Blue, a slightly snarky computer application requested the names of movement qualities and body parts from the crowd, and then paired those lists in improbable combos like “languid/left pinky” and “nose/like a rolling storm,” simultaneously generating a bizarre dance score for Aumiller and interrogating her responses.

Interactivity also factored into Megan Mazarick’s political satire, Boundaries, as her spooky, animatronic Hillary Clinton glitched through a canned greeting before launching into an equally non-spontaneous rap, an edgy send-up of Iggy Azalea’s “Work.”

As Mazarick’s character answered various telephones, she handed the receivers to folks in the audience. “Picture this,” she said. “The caller is your jilted ex-lover, the Bald Eagle, and you are the American people.” Mazarick negotiated the resulting maze of intersecting phone cords to the stylings of Electric Light Orchestra, then backed away from us with an expression of disbelief or horror on her face.

Taking the audience into various aspects of the act of creation, emphasizing intimacy and interaction, and foregrounding transparency, commitment, technique, and risk, RAW clearly showed what thoughtfully cultivated relationships can look like and achieve, a lesson that even emerging artists could learn from. More, please.