Circles of Life Wrap Up Fringe Festival

Feb 5th, 2013 | By | Category: Entertainment
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Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck in dance. Photo courtesy Florence Baratay.

While no means oppressed, heterosexual men are a minority in the world of Modern Dance.  A collaborative work between the recently married team of dancer Amanda Diorio and stage actor Michael Drains melded dance and the spoken word, from a man’s perspective.  “As I breathe I cannot seem to let it go,” began Drains as he interacted with his spouse as something of a struggle took place on stage, involving seemingly painful and rough drops as well as more tender combinations as the dancer and actor “became one.”  Throughout the piece as Diorio would do solo dance work in one corner of the stage, Drains on the diagonal opposite would continue with captivating spoken poetry centered on his need and desire for his bride, with the refrain “Without Your Moves, My Words Have No Voice,” a line chosen to become the title of the work.

Stephanie Blackmon Woodbeck has been a dancer for a number of years, but the 11th annual Greensboro Fringe Festival offered her a second debut.  After taking off more than a year to deal with her pregnancy and her newborn, Woodbeck returned to the stage with equal measures poise and clear joy.  Wittily titled “Baby Steps” in this solo work with no-nonsense flannel attire and mellow acoustic music, she toyed with both implications of the word, of the child and her own re-entry into the art.  Early on it was clear that she took some of her movement inspiration from her baby, such as bouncing on her haunches only to fall as if on unsteady legs.  As the piece progressed, it was clear she was anything but uncertain in her self-control.  Echoes of the actions of butterflies were seen as she delicately fluttered her hands across her body several times and later her crisp movements seemed to pull into herself only to later become more explosive as the end approached.  This end marks the start of her second act in dance.

Like many other arts, dance is often most focused when it represents the thoughts and design of a single mind or an intimate professional partnership.  “Embrace” succeeded in being both a pleasurable collaborative act between choreographer G. Alex Smith along with the cast of Ali Fruit, Anna M. Maynard and Jamille Wallick while also remaining focused.  Dance by its very nature is separated from other arts with its preoccupation with the phenomenology of the human form as it exists in time and space.  This third act of the “On The Edge” concert produced by the John Gamble Dance Theater dealt with these explorations in a form both intuitively pleasing as well as serious.  The trio of dancers functioned as two separate worlds, with one dancer alone as she explored the circle around her by lifting and dropping her limbs or forming differently pitched triangles with her body sharply enough that her cheek touched the floor with a leg outstretched toward the ceiling.

With dresses at once lovely and ragged, designed by Sue Williams, the other two displayed a less reflexive investigation of their bodies, instead choosing to learn about each other with the innocence of Eden.  The two explorers carefully turned each other’s cheek and traced them before then pulling down the other’s chin in order to examine the faces mirroring their own.  At times the plotlines of the two and the one would converge, briefly forming graceful triangular movements with gently outstretched arms and even, almost hypnotic pacing.  The lack of emotional tension may have made this piece feel austere to some but this only arguably mars the beauty of the total composition.

The second solo work of the evening was offered by Triad-based dancer and costumer Katrina Blose in a dark psychological account.  Described by Blose as “the journey of a young woman through a nightmare,” from start to finish here in “Lighthouse” the alternative universe of dreams became reality.  Sliding out from an unlit side curtain, her form covered in a large dull blanket, she slowly and shakily begins to reveal some of the form beneath.  Much rolling and other movement ensued, yet the subtlety of these motions was too often obscured due to the blanket itself.  At one point she bolted upright and emerged from the blanket only to hunch, then recover herself and shake back into the world under covers.

Despite the dark spaciousness of the track by Interpol and the dimly lit stage, when Blose’s fingers emerged from the side to wiggle out, the audience responded with a wave of surprised chuckles, perhaps as a way to relieve the building anxiety, an emotional state that had led the one infant in attendance to whimper.  Blose fully departed the blanket only to then test its properties of size and weight as she once again was subsumed, struggling against the confines of the fabric with a nod toward Martha Graham’s pathbreaking “Lamentation.”  A sudden shrill cry from Blose brought the piece to a sharp ending.

Considered a work in progress, “collect carry cherish keep” nonetheless offered the most complex and lovely experience of the concert.  Though Heather Doyle was the choreographer, it was noted that the performers themselves were instrumental in developing the form of this work. Two pairs of dancers, one of young women and the other of women on the opposite side of middle age, dramatically swept in from the sides of the stage, immediately capturing the attention of the audience.  A long and subtle series of revolving spotlights began, with one of the older dancers starting movements that the younger then cautiously began to imitate from the comparative, but ever-moving, background.  This pattern did not last overlong, however, and the two younger dancers also seamlessly took their turns sliding into the role of leader with bursts of frantic movement resolving into moments of pause.  The pauses were made all the more poignant by the interesting feature that the music stopped not at the ending, but just as it began to accelerate.

The foursome of Gretchen Dunn, Ali Owens, Meredith Rabil and Annetta Dexter Sawyer steadily divided into different pairs only to repeatedly recongeal in a hectic clump, with arms and heads waving as they followed each other like tadpoles in a teacup.  Other than these moments, there was nothing else to suggest the feeling of being cramped.  Instead the atmosphere was open and gentle as both young and old dancers’ motions were caressed into the correct form by the three surrounding them.  A piece this intriguing as it celebrated the circle of ageing and youth deserved its clever ending of a mixed age duo in the spotlight as two others stood looking on from the shadows.

The Greensboro Fringe Festival once again provided a platform for the Triad’s fresh talent to get exposure to audiences from across the city and area.  The final theater performances continue until February 10th.

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