Minnesota Fringe Festival—FLESH

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It has been fascinating to see the wide range of responses to this show that have appeared in the Fringe audience reviews. Some have given “Five Kitties” and lauded the show for fabulous performances. Some have given as little as one or two “Kitties” and said that they were bored or just plain didn’t get it.

Personally, I was struck by four common elements, among the five solos, that HAD to be circumstantial because of the way that the show was assembled at the last minute from pre-existing material. Tamara got in off the waiting list with only about three weeks to go. She called up a bunch of top-notch dance performers and asked, “What have you got that can be ready to go in three weeks?”  So if there were contrasts, they were accidental. If there were similarities they were coincidental.

The first of four things that struck me was that all five solos had glacially slow beginnings. Most continued at that pace, though Laura Selle had moments of sweat-breaking energy and Amy Behm contrasted swift movement with stillness very effectively. At the end of the day this show was more sculptural than kinesthetic. We saw a long succession of still moments and slo-mo transitions. I want to come back to this thought, later, below.

Second, there was a recurring theme. Let me reiterate that this was probably a coincidence rather than an artistic choice. At least four of the five solos dealt in some way with the idea of “emerging,” such as a butterfly from a cocoon. Tamara emerges from a constricted and physically bound circumstance to a greater freedom. Leslie gradually emerges from a bathtub, segueing from concealed angst to public glamour. Laura emerges from the cruel limitation of one photographer’s focused light, through some open space, to arrival at another light elsewhere. Nic emerges from a crumple of bedding to take on slowly and with effort the hooves and bridle of the horse.

Third, the solos depended enormously on posing. These folks were very good at it. I often tell my beginning modern dance classes at Zenon that the second hardest thing to do in dance is to simply walk forward, because there’s no flashy crap to hide behind, but the hardest of all is to stand still, not move, and still command the stage. Don’t just do something, stand there. These folks were very good at it. The problem is that (by pure coincidence) there was way way way way too much of it. As a theatrical experience, as an audience coming to a dance show, we needed more kinesthetic variety.

Fourth and finally, each piece was driven more by concept than by movement. I found something to like in each piece, but as a whole for the evening I had to kind of hang in there and struggle. I guess that’s good for me. But I sympathize with the people who gave only one or two “kitties” because they couldn’t handle it, and I don’t blame them. It was very (I used this word before) glacial.

I’m going to go out on a limb and disclose one or two of my preconceptions, or biases. That’s what someone else would call them. I call them values and choices. So let’s fight, if you wanna.

Going back to my first observation above, that the pieces all began glacially slow, I believe that dance is the art of motion and shape involving time, space, dynamics, and anatomy. My ideal is that all of these elements are always in play, though in varying degrees of importance at any single moment. I don’t believe that singling out one, or another, such as “rhythmic footwork” or “jumps” or “beautiful body” or “shape” is a positive when it rules too strongly. Shape ruled for too much of Tamara’s solo, and others.  It was wonderful and inventive shape, but it tyrannized what it should have led. Please reflect upon the difference between tyranny and leading.

Another personal principle: the concept. I totally agree with Doris Humphrey when she says that all dances should have an idea. You don’t just string clever movements together. That’s cheap-ass entertainment give-em-tricks Hollywoodshit. But I have to insist that I believe that dance is movement expressing the idea rather than the idea just finding some movement or other. I’m desperately tired of overly intellectual dances that may be well thought-out but aren’t worth watching, despite incredible skill from the dancers. Critics and panels these days seemingly adore such work. Maybe instead we should just read extensive prose explanations from the choreographers. I won’t name specific examples from this show for fear of losing friends.

One last thought. We who deeply love modern dance, such as myself, need to pay renewed and careful attention to who our audiences are, what they can see, how we can communicate with them, and what we can do to draw them into our wonderful vision.

I liked a lot of the inventiveness in Tamara’s piece. I mostly loved Amy Behm’s closing piece.

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