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Austin goes crazy for Dissociative Fugue

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Dance performance by Circuitous Dance and Andrea Beckham Collaborative Dance

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Dissociative fugue is the diagnostic name of a mental disorder involving sudden loss of identity and memory. The very thought of this happening to one is horrifying, yet choreographer Kate Warren explores the condition in depth in her dance of the same name, “Dissociative Fugue.” Even more surprising than an aberrant clinical condition as a premise for a contemporary dance is the fact that Ms. Warren revisits the theme from a 1998 solo dance of hers entitled “Fugue State.” This time around, Ms. Warren applies the talents and resources of her company, Circuitous Dance, to create a 30-minute ensemble dance. The 1998 dance was a shorter solo choreographed on and performed by Kathy Dunn Hamrick, now the artistic director and principal choreographer of Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company.

The dance achieves all the expressive beauty the world has come to expect of contemporary dance and the work of Kate Warren over the course of her career. The company of five highly committed female dancers began the work at lights up with a slowly building gestural sequence, which more than anything demonstrated their mastery of balance and ability to move with that athletic zero-gee quality where down and sideways have the same force as up, and the movements of head, spine and limbs exert control on all directions. The ensemble broke into short duets in this opening sequence as well.

Annette Christopher entered to perform the core solo of the dance in a flowing, somewhat billowing, thigh-length burgundy dress. This may have been the same costume garment worn by the original 1998 soloist, Kathy Dunn Hamrick. To the privileged witnesses of that earlier version, the shock of recognition occasioned by the return of the burgundy dress pitched us into a time-warp of sixteen years gone for nothing. We returned to that unwilling descent into madness, unstoppable and confusing, yet portrayed with perfect technique and heartfelt tenderness, then by Kathy Dunn Hamrick, now by Annette Christopher.

The dance was fleshed out to ensemble proportions with a return of the four remaining dancers, who reacted to the performance of Ms. Christopher, principally by picking up her gestures, some as small as tapping on the floor, and building them into tangential phrases of their own. Their costumes were light, flowing sheaths that apparently moved well, all crafted by choreographer and costume designer Yelena Konetchy. Despite their own explorations, the supporting dancers kept their focus on Ms Christopher, repeatedly rushing to her and settling to the floor. Perhaps they were waves coming to shore or rocks at the bottom of the ocean. Ms Christopher remained a pillar of madness, but not anger; hers was a dance of unknowing and inability to control the forces invading her life. These are passive qualities she portrayed well in the midst of the wild energies of the ensemble, along with that drowning feeling of finding oneself at the bottom of the ocean with no way to rise and float to the surface. “Dissociative Fugue” was admirably performed, its feelings even more admirably conveyed.

Certain duets within the dance were noticeably strong. Cherami Steadman and Melissa Feather danced as one, with that explosive power usually only associated with Ms Steadman in her solo work. Here, matched perfectly by Ms Feather, their duet established the unpredictability of stormy mental states as a background to the work as a whole. A virtuosic duet performed entirely as floorwork near the beginning of the piece delighted especially.

The veteran Texas and New York dancer Lisa Nicks and talented newcomer Hallie Ward created flying moments and balanced shapes, sometimes paired, sometimes in other groupings. The strength of this ensemble is that while they demonstrate virtuoso technique, they also rise above their technique to the level of artistic expression, and they never forget what they are about.

Toward the end of the piece, the influence of Kay Braden was apparent. The legendary choreographer, teacher, and colleague of Kate Warren had an eye and expressiveness for gesture and the mystery of everyday movement, as when one person simply reaches out for another. This becomes, in rare artists, a choreographic tool or quality that might be thought of as gesture-becoming-movement-becoming-dance. It gives to an artistic work what might be called the magic of the moment or genius of the instant. This material, when seen in performance, recalls, or perhaps elevates, one to a reverence for the fleeting or essential beauty of the moment. The moment is articulated as a high value in high-flown, usually philosophically zen circles, such as those including Joseph Campbell and Deborah Hay. In “Dissociative Fugue,” many rare moments become high art.

Andrea Beckham Collaborative Dance (ABCD) accompanied “Dissociative Fugue” to flesh out the evening of dance. Ms Beckham’s pieces “Conversation with Oneself” (a premiere) and “My Shadow is Crooked” (from 1993) were complementary companions to “Dissociative Fugue.” The premiere piece was performed by Hallie Ward and Alexa Capareda, while “My Shadow is Crooked” was a solo by Ms Capareda. “Conversation with Oneself” contained two noteworthy and innovative choreographic elements. First, the dancers wore hoodies as costume pieces, and periodically through the dance they would very deliberately adjust the hoods, zippers, and other parts of the costume. Few think of clothing adjustments as choreographic material. The second innovative gesture was allowing the music to end the piece rather than for the movement to end it. The dancers exited, the stage fell dark, and the soundtrack, Graham Reynolds’ Difference Engine, played for a few minutes in darkness to form the conclusion. Some thought this a refreshing innovation while others reported feeling uncomfortable sitting in the dark that long only listening to music.

Judge for yourselves; the show runs until March 30th at Café Dance, central Austin.

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