Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Downtown Dance in Downtown Houston: Big Range Program C

Align Left

Miranda Jirik and Rachel Lehrer

photo by Bryan Fox

Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex
June 12, 2009

One of the great perks of the Big Range Dance Festival is seeing work from outside of Houston. To see downtown dance in downtown Houston, well, that's even better. Choreographers Lori Yuill (formerly of Suchu) and Anneke Hansen were on hand to give Texans a taste of the downtown aesthetic. Their training and approaches show a integration of a large body of movement knowledge and just warms the heart of this somatic-leaning critic. Their dancers, also well-schooled movement wonks, present fine examples of the merging of dance technique and the body sciences. Both Yuill and Hansen were on the Big Range bill two years ago, so this is another opportunity to follow these artists in their development.

Hansen's we should call it many things, which premiered in March, 2009 at University Settlement on NYC's Lower East Side, proved to be the most fully realized program of the evening. Her opening solo showed off her considerable qualitative palette. A foot reaches for the floor, but not quite, a shoulder shimmers, then retreats, hands caress imaginary objects in space. She and her dancers move with such clarity, space appears fuller, larger, endowed with extra features. Hansen's dance plays with sound, music by Emily Scott and Jack Lawrence, wildly inventive and odd movement choices and relationships that form and disperse in a lulling rhythm. At times, the dancers become the singers, hummers, or quirky chirpers in the piece's lighter moments. It's obvious from watching that the dancers have worked together for a while; in fact, their connectivity makes for one of the most meaningful allures of the piece. There are moments when dancers get thrown out of the pack literally to do their own thing. Miranda Jirik captivates in her sly solo, which concludes with her crawling off stage while whistling. Besides Hansen and Jirik, the dancers included Deborah Black, Rachel Lehrer, Marissa Palley and Yuill. Natasha Manley's haunting singing and stage presence added to the mix. Jeremy Choate coated Hansen's finely defined choreography in side light, punching the warm skin tones against a velvety blackness. Black's playful jumpsuits featured solid blocks of primary colors with dashes of pattern, and added a touch whimsy.

Yuill presented a trio cryptically called A Window into the Lorena Reality, which premiered at The Kitchen in April as a part of the Field's Emerging Artist Residency. With the space defined by a border of pillows, Brian Buck, Hanson, and Palley, duke it out for space, contact, support, perhaps meaning. Sometimes in agreement, other times in competition, the trio reveals the trouble with three-ness. Like Hanson's work, the highly nuanced qualities of the dancers forms the subject of the dance. Buck's aggressive naturalism contrasts Hanson's delicacy, while Palley takes the spunky spot. The choice to move in silence afforded even more focus on the dancing.

Amy Ell's opening of Thread, also danced in silence, contained some stunning moments. Four dancers attached to long billowy skirts tethered to the back of the stage, rush forward. The lights dim as the fabric floats back to the ground. Accompanied only by the intoxicating sound of the swishing of fabric, the minimalism worked well here. Three aerialists enter to share the space and the limelight with the earthbound trio. White silks drop from the ceiling and we are treated to some spectacular air candy dancing. Air dancing comes with its troubles too; unison becomes problematic here, our attention is divided in a small space between the three dancers, and there's considerable work wrapping and unwrapping that feels too utilitarian and distracting. Still, it's hard not to gasp at their skill level, daring and sheer brute strength and grace all happening some 15 ft. in the air. There's no shortage of risk taking with the silks; it's simply breathtaking when they slip down the silks, allowing for quiet moments that unite body and fabric.

Thread feels like two separate dances put together for this occasion. The silence that worked so well in the opening was interrupted by choices that felt very Cirque du Soleilish. All that said, Ell is Houston's chief air pioneer, traveling the world studying various circus and aerial techniques. There's a lot of engineering yet to happen about the dance element in the airspace, and Ell is committed to seriously investigating that territory. The ground dancers included Erica Lewis, Catalina Molnari, Joani Trevino and Brittany Wallis. Air dancers included Ell, Mechelle Flemming, and Polly Patton. Clair Hummel's white cotton pants and tops with matching the long skirts and silks gave the piece a formal edge. Part of the Big Range's mission is all about giving choreographers a place to hone their work. Thread, still finding its threads, is a solid start.

Hats off to Louie Saletan for sticking with the festival's name in the curating process and to Jennifer Wood for her wonderful sampling of dance films in the pre-show entertainment.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.