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Austin takes its Leap of Faith

Leap of Faith is the 2014 installment of dance company Ready/Set/Go!’s yearly dance showcase. The evening of performance by Austin and regional choreographers and their companies fit comfortably in the adaptable Off Center theatre in east Austin. The series, produced by Ready/Set/Go!’s producing artistic director Katherine Hodges, is rising in recognition due to the quality of work it presents and the fact that it is filling a void left by the apparent demise of other worthy dance series in the city.

With a wealth of talent from which to choose, Ms Hodges had the enviable task of structuring the evening’s program. On the proven theory that one must always start with strength, Ms Hodges gave us “GRIT,” choreographed by Alyson Dolan. Powerful indeed, “GRIT” explored the emotional territories and shifting currents between two dancers, Alyson Dolan and Lisa del Rosario. Matched in their supreme movement skills, they showed a marked sharing of their strengths: Ms Dolan’s flowing and releasing phrasing and Ms del Rosario’s upper trunk and arm gestures and quicksilver emotional changes. In combination, the two found surprising points of emphasis and long, furiously paced passages of movement. Adding to this was their commitment to floorwork, often overlooked, but not by them. If this were not enough for dance lovers, the movement was a close collaboration with a live musical accompaniment by percussionist Drew Silverman and accomplished vocalist Alfredo Ramirez. Breaking the barrier between music and dance, the dancers stepped to the musicians at two points in time to form tableaux of support and caring. Altogether, the piece was thirteen minutes of high artistic creativity.

The following two pieces were both duets choreographed by Director Katherine Hodges. Duets inevitably concern relationships between the two performers, but these duets were freshened by innovative, almost experimental staging and contrastive movement palettes.

“It Happened and Can’t Be Changed” is the title of the multimedia dance choreographed by Lorn MacDougal, featuring live musical performance, virtuoso dance by Andrea Williams, and spoken word comedy. Alain Le Razer performed the music and part of the dance. The atmosphere of the dance was a little absurdist and whole lot Daliesque surrealist. It evoked the whimsy of the Italian animated film Allegro Non Troppo. Hard on the heels of the dance came “NYC Grit,” a film by this same Alain Le Razer. The film was a lengthy montage of 2D and 3D figurative art on the streets of NYC. As always, the cleverness of film lies in its ironic juxtapositions.

“Thaw” was collaboration between Errin Delperdang and Dany Casey, both masters of contact improvisation. Most of the piece had the performers in contact, but most viewers would describe it as choreographed, not improvised. The audience first saw the dancers in contact and in stillness on the floor; perhaps they were discarded ice sculptures or mannequins. Movement started slowly, in pace with a very slow fade-up of the lights. Eventually, their figures rose from what proved to be a mass of baby powder. The powder rolled from them and their costumes in clouds, in harmony with their movements. Their costumes were white on white, and they varied between sheer fabric sections on their limbs and lower torsos and layered ruffles on their upper torsos. Their faces and hair were heavily powdered. The piece developed into a very mature take on contrastive textures and use of the space. The contrasts climaxed when several apples rolled onto the stage, and the performers tried to catch them. Some in the crowd roared their appreciation of this masterstroke, but the majority of the audience remained silent with puzzled looks on their faces. The performers no doubt enjoyed both extremes of response. The dance was a small masterpiece of creative abstraction, and it won this reviewer’s “Most Bizarre Concept Award” for the show.

“Writer’s Block” was a short film by Katherine Hodges about exactly that. Performer Dany Casey sat at a, no kidding, Underwood portable manual typewriter, snapping away at a few keys in desultory fashion. Then she exploded into writer’s block, scattering paper and literally climbing the walls. The film depicted every writer’s nightmare in showing, via film magic (reversing the film), keystrokes that lifted letters off the page and taking words into nothingness as though they had never existed. The end credits revealed that the film had been prepared and screened originally at last year’s Ready/Set/Go! show.

“a paroxysm of selfhood” was a work in progress by Kelly Hasandras, and a generous blend of acting, music, voiceovers and dance. The audience looks forward to the next installment of this intelligent and wry saga.

“Swamp” by Tara Alperin was an unusual high comedy piece. It was a duet and a sendup of 90s hip-hop dance with rap soundtracks. The comedy was keyed immediately by the frilly princess dresses with studio kneepads underneath. The piece then catalogued every gesture of 90s street attitude—gum chomping, finger pointing, head tossing, nose-picking in front of everybody, gesturing to friends in the crowd (“call me”), the whole nine yards. Contrary to expectation, the piece was disciplined, well choreographed, and well performed.

Ellen Bartel’s “Hazy Eyes (2014)” ended the show on a profound and powerful note. Technically, the piece was a quartet. The dancers entered wearing neutral, tattered looking costumes. Here and there among them suggestions of injuries showed—a wrapped knee, careful movement; but these formed no blatant statement of wounding at first, just a background of ill-ease. “Hazy Eyes” was the title of the soundtrack music by Marc Ribot; the dancers’ eyes were made up cosmetically dark and stark, not hazy at all. The piece built up slowly, with circling motions of the head while facing upstage. These movements eventually grew and morphed into repeated, athletic phrases with dancers leaping as if to climb a wall, then falling away to form shapes on the floor, then repeating, then increasing the pace until another dancer began forming another phrase. These looked like endless cycles of trying and trying. At the end, the house lights came up and the dancers with their stark, penetrating eyes stood house front and made strong eye contact with every member of the audience. The experience was deeply intimate. But on another level, too, some could see this ending as a loving statement or teaching that in the face of personal tragedy and wounding and loss, we are altogether all we have, and only by sharing and sharing can we truly survive.

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