Sunday, February 20, 2005

REVIEW: Black Rain Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble at Barnevelder

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Photo by Graf Imhoof

Michele Brangwen has been trying to discover how dancers can share the stage successfully with musicians. She has also been on a mission to create dances on themes that matter. Judging from the delicate presence of her newest work, Black Rain, she is well on her way toward both goals.

Composer Thomas Helton and Brangwen joined forces in presenting a somber mood for Black Rain. Brangwen’s choreographic restraint gave ample space and attention to Helton’s musical contribution. The opening still-life of the connected dancers and musicians created a context in which whatever was going to happen next involved the entire assembly of people. Brangwen truly established the feeling that they were in this together. Her spare moves offset the musicians’ movement and the entire work felt whole.

Dancers Deanna Green, Arneita McKinney, Aynsley Stephenson, and Michele Brangwen danced with copious grace delivered with a sense of serious gravity. Helton’s dramatic score created depth and drama matched by Brangwen’s paired-down choreography. Musicians Seth Paynter (saxophone), John Edward Ross (guitar), Thomas Helton (string bass), and Richard Cholakian (percussion) melded beautifully into the work. Their playing and presence added to the fluid mix. Brangwen’s union between music and movement in Black Rain is her most successful adventure thus far. Even Brangwen’s attachment to traditional vocabulary worked in this scenario.

Black Rain allows the viewer to fill in the story. I imagined the four women as guardians and protectors of the earth’s precious blood, otherwise known as water. Perhaps the dancers' heavy moods were due to the sad fact that most of the earth’s water has been contaminated, fresh water is in short supply, the polar ice caps are melting, and acid rain continues to wreak havoc on the world’s old growth forests. Brangwen points the way in a last reaching gesture of the dance. Perhaps she is reminding us to wake up and look around. Her work calls my attention to water in all its manifestations around me.

In Brangwen’s tradition of putting music front and center, the evening opened with the sultry sounds of Carol Morgan’s Wet Set. Morgan’s range and color on the trumpet, wonderfully supported by Kevin Patton on hyper-guitar, and Corey Dozier on string bass, set the watery mood. Works from FotoFest 2004 International Biennial on Water: Celebrating Water, Looking at Global Crisis lended added visual texture; they included marvelous images of water droplets from the Institute for Flow Research.

Water, the very blood of the earth is in serious peril. Finally, a choreographer gives heart, soul, and depth, to a global issue.

Read Linda Phenix's review of Black Rain at