Thursday, July 14, 2016

Edge 6 at DOTE

It's that time in the Dancing on the Edge Festival when my desire to see as much work as I can exceeds my capacity to write in depth about it (a conference to plan for next week, wouldn't you know). So apologies for the capsule descriptions that follow of the pieces included on the Edge 6 program, which opened last night at the Firehall.

I've always loved Amber Funk Barton's taste in music. For Village, her newest work for her company the response., she choreographs a quartet to a suite of songs by Panda Bear. While content-wise the lyrics don't really have any direct correspondence to the movement, rhythmically Barton displays an intuitive sense of when to align beats with steps. In her program note, Barton writes that Village is about a group of individuals who live by the sea and survive a storm; that would explain some of the pantomimed sequences peppered throughout the piece: the shower scene that opens the work; the rope-pulling; the game of tag. However, not knowing this until after the piece was over, I was frankly more than happy to enjoy the movement for its own sake: the way Barton sends her dancers in and out of unison; how she creates subtle domino effects by having them lean into each other with their bodies; the way she juxtaposes small gestures (the kneeling prayer near the beginning) with more explosive and accelerated lifts and partnering sequences. Another thing Barton is really good at: spotting young talent. The dancers in this piece (Antonio Somero Jr., Andrew Haydock, Tessa Tamura, and Marcy Mills) were all excellent.

Sick Fish, by my colleague Rob Kitsos, is a charming duet that he dances with his daughter Beatrice, who has an abundance of natural stage presence. Set to an original sound composition by Lucas Van Lenton, and accompanied by digital projections of drawings that I gather were made by Beatrice and her brother Gabriel, the piece is about the playful and deeply mysterious world of children's dreams. It begins with Beatrice wandering the stage, glimpsing something off in the distance, something that may in fact be playing across the blankness of the upstage screen, but that apparently only she can see. Nevertheless, she tries to point out what she is seeing to her father when he joins her on stage, and later with his dancing--which begins with a simple repeated pull of his arms through space, as if gathering together the dark matter of his child's imagination--Rob will unleash a torrent of fantastical embodied shapes and projected images for us to revel in. The piece also incorporates lipsynching, a technique Kitsos has used in past work (for example, Barego); the uncanny alignment of mimed speech to the snatches of dialogue we hear in Van Lenton's score is another kind of aural kinesis that complements the physical movement. But it is young Beatrice who steals the show on this front with her own lipsynching to a song (sung by her younger self?) that gives us the title to the piece--and that in its mixing of the logically bizarre and the refreshingly unsentimental could only have come from a child's unconscious.

The program concluded with Starr Muranko's Spine of the Mother, a collaboration between Raven Spirit Dance and Starrwind Dance Projects, and an excerpt of which I had previously seen at the 2014 DOTE (and wrote briefly about here). Muranko has built what was previously a solo for the mesmerizing Tasha Faye Evans into a duet for Evans and Olivia Shaffer. At the top of the piece the dancers are positioned at opposite ends of a diagonal, with Evans facing us downstage left and Shaffer crouched with her back to us upstage right. As Evans begins a slow spiralling solo punctuated by the clicking sounds of the two rocks she holds in her hands, Shaffer initiates a subtle series of shaking convulsions with her body. In other words, the opening outwards of Evans' body is counterpointed with the contracting inwards of Shaffer's, a ripple effect shared across two female bodies meant to convey physically the shared belief among Indigenous peoples of the Americas that the continents are connected by the various mountain ranges that stretch from the Andes to the Rockies. By the end of the piece the two dancers will come together physically along the opposite diagonal axis to enact this very connection, their laborious and awkward earthbound crawl towards each other along the rock-strewn route that Evans had previously mapped for them by looking to the heavens (and which is visually amplified for us via Sammy Chien's projections) culminating in a mutual rise to standing that is accomplished by matching, vertebra by vertebra, one spine to another.


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