Fringe Dance Warms the Greensboro Arts Scene

Feb 4th, 2013 | By | Category: Entertainment
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Renay Aumiller dances. Photo courtesy Steve Clarke.

The Triad is not quite the Triangle, but with every passing year our arts scene makes its presence felt more deeply.  Eleven years have come and gone since the first Greensboro Fringe Festival started, a broad showcase for performance art stretching across two weeks and often multiple venues.  Based on the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of Scotland, new and young talent is given a chance to display itself away from the confines of a university.

Unlike the stereotypical image of a dancer as a slender wisp of twentysomething, the first piece of the annual Fringe Dance Concert featured a relatively mature couple, whose years of marriage served to grace their dance with an unadorned intimacy.  The couple, who happen to be Festival Director Todd Fisher paired with his wife and choreographer Christine Kiernan Fisher, created a gentle and light-hearted work that set the mood for the rest of the evening.  Despite his occasional lifting and carrying of his partner, Todd Fisher was more often led by his counterpart, herself a more flexible dancer, as she would physically stop him and start him on another motion in their medium-paced “Somehow.”  The real contribution of this piece was the sincere joy imparted by the performers and recognized by the audience, an alternative to the air of severity that can surround the genre of Modern Dance.

This joy continued in the second act, but in a strangely shaped form.  “Gaunt Ammunition for an Unpredictable Battle,” was a densely titled solo piece choreographed by Lauren Trollinger and performed by Emilee Harney in something of a debut for the young dancer, whose intensity may have been heightened by the fact that this night was also her birthday.  Responding with poise after several false starts due to technical glitches on the opening night of the festival, Harney steadily explored circularity. Between her and her choreographer, a neat series of sensations was received.  Alone and with little music joining her on stage, Harney was able to curl into herself while still exploding, as if she were the light from a surface of the sun glowing inward.

Her movements were long and determined, with her arms and lengthy legs stretched to their maximum but never quite breaking the centrifugal force away from herself, always keeping her energy within unseen, but keenly felt, circumferential limits. Novel movements including a combined kneel and extreme split that were tranquil rather than showing off, and perhaps the climax occurred when at first the young Harney seemed to be able to wobble on her knee as if it were broken, an alarming sight that was only heightened when shortly after she made a series of risky drops imperiling the very joints she seemed to be studying.  As is the nature of circles within circles, the dance ended in silence as it began.  Whether Harney’s delicate self-restraint is due to opening night anxiety or a natural modesty, only her future appearances will tell.

The Fringe Festival is both for theater and dance, so the combination of the two in “She’s really let herself go…” was more fun than distractingly verbal.  A cardboard cutout of a television screen and two “fabulous” hosts of a late-night women’s show about glamor incited audience participation, though the laughter came naturally during their funny introductory banter about what it takes to stay sexy.  Their guest, played by Kaitlin Houlditch-Fair, supposed author of “1982’s smash-hit ‘Staying Fit In Your Fifties’ and Miss Exotic Dancer 1962,” then stole the show, at least for the remainder of the spoken portion.  Asked about what she does to stay desirable, despite the fact that this character was as frumpy as any chain-smoking grandmother should be, she replied “at a certain point women, we just let ourselves get old.  Watching reruns with our cat, what in the Hell is desirable about that?”  She unleashed a tirade on her hosts, telling one that her hair “looks like you were just woken up by a sailor” while the other “never washed your face unless it rained.”

These taunts caused a crisis and the veneer of theater was plucked like an eyebrow into revealing dance.  Toni Craige and Leah Wilks, the two hosts, then retreated in unison to the opposite corner of the stage, mostly crawling before removing their wigs, and thus shearing themselves of some artificiality.  A tense, oscillating track of a sort of world-industrial music provided the cover as the two dancers kept up a high energy performance that filled up the stage without much floorwork, while the ‘old woman’ remained where she was, stripping off her own garments and beads with the cautious order of the thoroughly arthritic.  The climax came after the two dancers returned, crawling, to their wigs, lifting and dropping them before returning them to their heads, donning armor against the unequal cruelties of age against and among women.

Moving away from this specifically feminine experience, “As We Were” dealt with the razor-like sensation of lovers with both longing and eternal division between them.  Revolving around a long bench under the sound of a restrained piano, Kristen Brooks Sandler and William Commander brought convincing emotion into the choreography of Sara Ruth Tourek.  Unlike the opening piece of the two Fishers, this second dark duo was far more rough and hence to many of us, more realistic.  The two captivated the audience with an elegance that with little change could be cast as Contemporary Ballet as much as Modern Dance.

Commander forcefully took the lead in moving Sandler, who constantly was able to emanate the precise emotion of neither rewarding him nor rebuffing, often the conflicted emotion in any given stage of an intense romance.  Eyes for his part never left his partner’s body, despite her ever keeping her face in an inward-looking grimace, even when sometimes tender to him as she lay her head on his lap while the piano suddenly became more plaintive.  After the curtain fell, sniffles and whimpers dotted the audience, clearly touched by the emotion of a true yet failed love, perhaps the most real sort.

Often departing from personal emotions to focus instead on larger and potentially provocative issues, Renay Aumiller who has recently returned to the Triad from the orbit of Chicago and Urbana, offered an excerpt from her yet-to-premiere “Pretty/Ugly.”  In this piece, three dancers clad in an archetypically American uniform of jeans and white t-shirts remained in largely distinct zones beneath the rising tide of sound.  This oceanic noise soon revealed itself as a static-filled track of Lady Gaga’s breakout hit “Poker Face.”  Unlike sophomoric works that may pair a young dancer’s favorite song with his or her motions, this selection was anything but naive.  Following the static, itself a different angle of experiencing the music, came a witty decontextualization of the edgy pop-star’s work into the “Lady Gaga Fugue” by Vincenzo Culotta, transcribing the radio hit into quaint chamber music form.

The three dancers of the rotating cast were on this evening Nicola Bullock, Bill Commander and Kimberly Wilson and the movements of each served to further slice off portions of the pop experience like expert butchers.  The three formed an odd chain of sharp jerking movements, isolating potions of the dance so that each felt like separate pieces of a single puzzle.  Though the movements were complementary and evolving, no dancers shared the same motions.  This witty excerpt opens question about the fungibility of music and “pop-ness,” but we may have to wait for the full premiere this June in Durham to discern the answer.

Until then support the grassroots performance art scene in Greensboro.  The Fringe Festival continues a varied offering of dance and avante-garde theatre through February 10th.

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