Sunday, March 21, 2010

Review: :Letters You Wrote

Photography by Sara Draper

Magnolia Ballroom
Houston, TX
March 18, 2010

Dancing to text presents some tricky territory, and Sara Draper's Dancepatheatre presentation, Letters You Wrote, ran into a few of them. Using family letters from post war era 1945-1965, Draper set selected letters to movement along with improvised music by members from The Foundation for Modern Music.

The final offering, Letter #7 from Beth to Friends, was the most fully realized. Here, the family scurries about in a pre-Christmas frenzy. We get a feel of the world of this letter before it actually begins, a chance to know these people and care what they have to say to one another. Nicely danced by Cassandra Shaffer, Sara Draper, Patricia Solorzano and Allison Truax, the final letter allowed enough space and time for the true intimacy of the letter to come centerstage.

Draper, always engaging to watch, lit up the stage in Letters #4 and #5. Even in her 50s, Draper's crisp clarity continues to charm, proving a bright spot in a problematic evening.

The trouble starts with the Magnolia Ballroom, which is way too acoustically live to hold an overly amplified layering of spoken word and live music, already in competition with a squeaky floor. The buzzy visuals of Houston's urban scape, visible from the audience's seats, add to the confusion. Letters are an intimate and long forgotten communication. Placed in a non-theatrical setting such as this, the pieces suffered from a lack of isolation in light, space and sound quality. The formal reading style of narrator Richard Jason Lyders also seemed an odd choice. Why would something as causal as a letter sound like a 1940s radio show? Whitney Adkins' more natural style served the pieces with a lighter touch. The excellent musicians, Nicholas Leh Baker and Maiko Sasaki, offered their own take on each letter, however, as the evening wore on, it began to sound all the same.

Trained in anthropology, Draper did a fine job in selecting letters that revealed the character of the post-war era. Clever vintage costumes added to the nostalgia. In the evening's best moments, Draper played more with the rhythm of dance and text, allowing the words to have a breathing space. But too often, too much was happening all at once. The movement choices ranged from literal interpretations of the words to abstract dancing, often distracting from the content of the letter.

Sadly, this leaves us to conclude that letters are perhaps best meant to be read by the addressee, quietly and all alone.

Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.