Fringe Festival Dance Review 2012

Feb 21st, 2012 | By | Category: Entertainment
Kearns at Greensboro Fringe Festival

Jason Aryeh of the Kearns Dance ProjPerformance art is always a moving target. In theatre where all lines are devoted to memory, the audience is guaranteed to never truly see the same show twice. Dance is even more fleeting of an art and as an experience. With no words hanging in the air, dance exists only in the present, with each moment slipping past uncontrollably, and this constant loss becomes the most sad and beautiful aspect.

The Greensboro Fringe Festival, now in its tenth year, has once again opened the door for a variety of new and upcoming works of art. While the burlesque shows and theatre performances might capture the attention of most, the Fringe also let loose some of the pent-up energy in Greensboro’s dance community.

The range offered by the double-billing of a series of works presented by the John Gamble Dance Theater and the Fringe Dance Concert was varied enough to satisfy regular dancegoers as well as educate newcomers to this art.

Virginia Dupont contributed not only a contemporary ballet as an interlude inside the play “The Greatest Actor Alive” but also opened the Fringe’s dance concert with the expansively titled “Sun. Mound. Civility. Eternity. Immortality.” Beneath the spoken words of Emily Dickenson’s reflections on death, four women on stage began to test themselves. Standing rigid at first, they each began physically exploring their bodies and world. An arm outstretched can go just how far, and what is the reaction to the body once the pose is loosened? These were the initial wordless questions being asked. Once the four dancers began to become more confident in their movements, the performers would slip up behind each other and carefully direct the motions of their chosen partners.

At a point the music suddenly changed to include a vague oriental beat and the dancers began exhaling at the same instant as they executed crisp motions that seemed as much in line with martial arts as with dance. The poetry of mortality continued to come as interludes, at which the dancers stilled until finally the piece ended with the women giving imploring looks at the audience as the lights grew dim.

The Fringe is focused on truly new work, and “With or Without” by Amber Starr Peeden included new players. A young man and woman dressed in flannel create a drama regarding the lifecycle of a relationship. From a start where they are always touching each other, their bodies working like correspondents, to a more complicated dance where feelings get slighted and resentments grow until the curtain drops on the girl curled on the ground while he stares into the darkness of a corner. These two performers pushed themselves to their personal limits, both seeming to be quite young, and this energy offset for any lack of technical grandeur.

Under a pale green light the evening took a turn to the fascinating with “Appurtenance & Confluence” by Jennifer McNure. Inhuman and otherworldly from the start, McNure and John Meroney begin on their knees at separate corners of the stage. With the steady, unthinking and unhesitating motions of primitive animals, the two dancers attempt to rise to their feet only to generally remain quadrupeds.

As they near each other, without fully acknowledging each other, a slow and reflexive ‘mating’ occurs. McNure started the act by draping herself and sliding off of Meroney. Gasps came from the audience when somehow keeping his much larger and stout figure from inuring her, Meroney rolled and lay across McNure just as deftly as she had done unto him.

The tempo lifted and the dancers rose to their feet, though never without giving echoes of their earlier crawling. Each took the spotlight for two brief solos until the green shadows flickered away, obscuring the pair, leaving the audience with the feeling that they may have peered into the cold but not unfelt mind of the coupling reptile.

Class divisions and the most complicated set of the evening began the next piece simply titled “Cell.” Lauren Wilson choreographed a work that was ornate and deeply satisfying. Three dancers clad in uniform grey were in the spotlight. Two different dancers were hidden in the shadows. “Go,” commanded the hidden ones and indeed the three obeyed, beginning a slow set of crawling motions with each other. As lights were increased a series of stained and beat up cardboard boxes formed a rectangle over part of the stage. The two separate or “higher caste” dancers enjoyed sweeping motions while the others continued writhing.

The boxes were functional, as slowly almost hypnotically the boxes full of styrofoam peanuts were emptied around the three in grey, forming a broad circle that was not challenged. Box after box was rhythmically spread in this fashion, and each box stacked precariously into a tower. The three in the circle kept moving as the brassy ambient music died, and the small theater was filled with the sound of crushing Styrofoam, creating a truly meditative atmosphere even after the abrupt crashing of the tower in this highpoint of the night. “It was really visceral,” commented one organic farmer who had driven to Greensboro just to see the Fringe’s performances.

John Gamble himself offered a piece entitled “Just Another Dance,” of which a similar version had premiered at UNCG in late 2011. This was a crisp counterpoint to the very sultry and emotional attitude of the earlier works, involving females dressed in black suits using high precision and a relatively more cheerful aura.

After a break long enough to grab a quick drink at Café Europa, the second half of the night continued with the Fringe Dance Concert offering an intelligent interpretation of our times by Erin Casanega titled “Extra, Extra!” Four people sat around a wooden table, heaped with copies of weekly newspapers and L.L. Bean catalogs. The performers began tearing through these as a voiced-over track of snippets of news coverage began. Ranging from homeless youth, decaying processing plants and the coinage of the word “bootylicious,” these tracks made the dancers uncomfortable, they became agitated, all at once smacking the sides of their heads to try and turn off the unceasing feed of media.

Planted members in the audience commanded it was time to “work” and the dancers frantically ran to a corner to pick up individually labeled bags of dirt. They raced across the stage to place them on top of the table before another command of “stop” was given. They held still until they were commanded to work or dance again in turn. Sometimes they were dancing when ordered to stop and this meant some performers were uncomfortably held aloft until the climax of the piece where the dancers stood shaking their heads wildly, seeking for relief from this hyperactive and regimented existence.

Lauren Kearns

Lauren Kearns, photo by Steve Clarke

The “modern primitive” is a concept of our rootless and technology infused times. This school of thought takes elements from traditional cultures, such as body modification and ancient rituals, and uses these elements to try to fuse together a new global culture based on this eclecticism. “When the World was Round” by the ever-interesting Kearns Dance Project explored this theme.

A solo performer Jason Aryeh forced himself to move by lifting his ankles with his hands, slowly becoming more active as he neared the audience. Solo might not be the correct word in a sense, since live musician Sandy Blocker mixed electronic and tribal music from the corner of the stage. Aryeh’s palms were covered in paint and as he moved he began spreading this paint, making a unique pattern across his body as he pioneered this new world.

Fans of more traditional dance were pleased with “Words and Deeds” by Jen Guy Metcalf. A couple, she in a red dress and he in a suit with no undershirt, kept a duet that was at times slow but never actually stopped. This was an aesthetic piece and ended with a nice touch of dancer Matthew Baird dropping rose petals as the object of his affections Erin Fitzgerald left the stage.

Words spoken directly to the audience from the dancers are not always considered the highest form of the non-verbal art of dance. Rachel Mauney, however, created a solo work mixing speaking with dance and the results were edgy and fresh. Appropriately the music as also a solo, in this case a piano. “Abandoned in an undiscovered country, Stained, Naked, Flawed, Decaying. The rest is silence,” she stated before emphasizing her thoughts with the controlled but intense actions of her body in this exploration of death. “The body is created in a state of decay,” she added, though it is hard to believe the statement when it comes from a dancer so agile.

After a night of moody and inventive acts, the finale was the palate cleansing offering from Sara Ruth Tourek titled “4×5 alone together.” Dressed in layers of what might have been thought of as lingerie in 1912, five dancers swept across the stage. At first the motions were quite gentle but almost imperceptibly the energy grew until there was almost an explosion, leaving the dancers clutching themselves on the ground.

Dance has carved out a permanent niche for itself in the cultural fabric of Greensboro and the Triad. Events like the Fringe Festival bring all the loose threads together and create an artistic pulse across the region.

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