It’s one of the most exciting moments in the life cycle of regional dance. A group of newcomers either arrive through the gravitational pull of the American Dance Festival or return here after extended sojourns: dance programs at major universities, individual dreamquests on the streets of New York, Chicago or Barcelona.
It takes a little time to unpack and set up house. After that, they go outside and look around–which is when they realize they’re not alone.
As they’re discovering their new surroundings, they’re also discovering one another; assessing the possibilities, seeing what results when certain bodies in motion collide.
Then we discover what they’ve found in one another.
The new crew–a constellation whose most notable names now include Renay Aumiller, Niki Juralewicz, K. Rain Leander, Alexis Mastromichalis, Ashley Ramsey and Kathryn Ullom–is far from uniformly developed: Their number includes promising undergrads, B.F.A.’s with vision, a former Trisha Brown dancer and artists at several professional steps in between.
Call them workers in progress. Promise, risk–and no shortage of rough edges–abound in much of their choreography and improvisations. Even if they have recently arrived, these are artists still very much in transit, in transition.
One useful thing the group has discovered is a new venue for modern dance. Since late spring, those serious about seeing the newest work from the newest artists have had to add Bickett Gallery, on the outskirts of Raleigh’s Five Points neighborhood, to their regular migratory patterns.
The converted industrial space at 209 Bickett Blvd. features a large outdoor deck and covered performance space, a more intimate indoor gallery environment and a well-stocked bar and wearable art boutique between them. With trendy mixed beverages–and Miller 40-ounces–distributed among the audience, the atmosphere is just a bit more bohemian than either Page Auditorium or Stewart Theater.
The only fly in the ointment, aside from minimal theater tech? Cement floors, which punish the legs and feet. Once more, the need for a mobile dance floor that can be rented for such occasions rears its head.
According to curator Molly Miller, dance will be a regular part of Bickett’s live performance programming in the coming year. Aumiller and affiliated artists staged Burnt, the first dance showcase concert of the fall season, on Saturday, Aug. 6. The gallery has already scheduled return engagements curated by Aumiller for Oct. 1 and Dec. 3.
If last weekend’s concert was any indication, we’re in for an interesting ride.
Curation–the judicious selection of works to be presented to the public–remains a final frontier that the region’s dance scene faces as a whole. Aumiller’s selections started fairly solid, with an outdoors set including two works she devised, alongside pieces by Ullom, Ramsey and Cara Clark. After an intermission, a large audience ventured into far more treacherous territory during a late-night set inside.
During the first part of the evening, Ashley Ramsey presented a work in progress, The Falling Experiment, a particularly daring work here, given the concrete that she and dancers Aumiller and Clark were falling on.
Ramsey’s trademark commitment was on display literally from the first moment of the work, when, after lining up with dancers on the right-hand corner of the stage, she fell forward, face first, breaking her fall to the floor with both hands extended just inches in front of her. After Aumiller then walked across Ramsey’s back to center stage, the group explored different states of falling, catching, rescuing (and not), releasing; collapses both individual and sequential.
A series of partial and complete falls was punctuated in passages where the dancers beautifully, extensively explored the space surrounding them, their bodies never acquiescing on any horizontal or vertical plane. Imagine a Calderesque mobile–but one freed to rotate freely on a series of arbitrary axis in space. The contrast between these and preceding sequences suggested a world where gravity is turned on, then off, and then back on again.
The Falling Experiment came after Ullom’s dark initial meditation, Hum, a jagged bouquet of slow segues to ground, fixed body images and sudden velocities, to similarly disquieting music by Godspeed You Black Emperor.
Anustart, Campbell McMillan’s underrehearsed solo with cellist Louisa Warren, succeeded mostly in its subtlest moments, when the nearly sly, synchronous, planar transitions of hands, torso and feet combined with the performer’s facial expressions at points as if to indicate an internal change of mind, or mood.
Given the traditional gender imbalance in dance, we particularly take note whenever someone of the male persuasion takes the floor. Jonathan Yeatts added savor to Aumiller’s dramatic duet, Less Than Two: Take Three, an already strong work we want to see developed further. Later that night, Wendell Cooper kept our interest more successfully than partner Mastromichalis, who only caught fire during a major kinetic explosion toward the end of the over-long Amperfand.
One of the real finds of the evening: demon cellist Randy Pelosa, whose electronically altered strings significantly surpassed even Chris Lancaster’s earlier efforts. Dark, dramatic, psychotic and compelling music: If you see his name anywhere on a bill, dress in flame-resistant garb–and attend.
These revelations preceded Boyzone, a painful filibuster of industrial noise and artless stagger. It was the first dance piece in many years that I walked out on. After a promising beginning, Charlie St. Clair and Lauren Ford’s work quickly devolved into movement that mainly suggested what Martin Sheen’s initial scene in Apocalypse Now–drunk and disorderly in a Saigon hotel room–might have looked like before the final edit. Pointless, eternal, and enhanced only by the monochrome, headsplitting electronica of Neill Prewitt, Ryan Martin, Jeff Rehnlumb and Kelly Reidy, this work single-handedly drove much of Aumiller’s audience into the night, before sanity–and dance–resumed in a blindfolded finale, Burnt. By then, the majority who did not return apparently felt that way themselves.
Another risky choice for Hot Summer Nights, Season One at the Kennedy Theatre at BTI–whoops, make that Progress Energy–Center in downtown Raleigh. Richard Maltby and David Shire’s music has graced a couple of Broadway hits and selected films in the past couple of decades. Shire’s jazzy, pugilistic score for the movie The Taking of Pelham One-Two-Three remains one of my all-time favorite film soundtracks–probably because it doesn’t sound anything like a soundtrack to a film.
Even so, New Yorkers would likely get a bit more out of this musical revue than folks in this region, since neither of this couple’s greatest hits, Baby or Big, have ever toured or been produced here. As a result, this largely unfamiliar soundtrack format recycles familiar themes of urban, uptown angst–the challenges of career, the search for achievement and the struggle for love among the big-city dwellers.
Without their film or big-stage contexts, director Debra Gillingham has the unenviable task of briefly crafting individual stories in songs, just as quickly removing them for the next ones in line. Mary Cuchetti was the stand-out on opening night. Indeed, in songs like “Crossword Puzzle,” she was the only one on stage who could always be depended on to sell a song with a delightful combination of bedrock confidence and urbane bemusement. Stepping out from his traditional director’s role, Kenny Gannon seemed particularly stiff at the start before warming into later work like the show-bizzy “You Can’t Let Down Your Fans.” Monique Argent found full flower only occasionally; most memorably in the deranged department store ditty “I’m Going to Make You Beautiful.” As usual, Julie Flinchum’s understated jazz accompaniment, with drummer Carlton Miles and bassist John Simonetti, was delicious.
The uneven sum of its parts the night we saw it makes this show a must-see for Broadway musical completists–but only an occasionally compelling encounter with unknown song crafters for the rest of us.
E-mail Byron Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.