Minnesota Fringe Festival: Nuance is earned

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This show – mostly dance but a certain amount of text and song – is a loose collaboration among four women who have something to say.  It holds together remarkably well, despite lack of a clear and tangible underlying thread such as narrative or topic or style. The four separate pieces are all clearly distinct from each other, but somehow they belong together. 

Taja Will opens the show appearing abruptly at a microphone wearing a really provocative (but totally legal) set of skimpy black lacey underwear. She has a few things to say, then launches into singing “Let Me Entertain You.” She has a damn good voice and a good ear for the torchey Vegas flavor the song demands. It’s not one of those horrendous moments when a dancer tries to sing or speak, and should not have done so. She launches into a burlesque dance routine, complete with blonde wig, red polka dot dress over no bra, with hip thrusts, wrist-flips, and sultry poses. There has been recorded introductory text by Robert Greene about “seduction.” It’s a very cynical and amusing text.

And that’s where the nuances begin to show up. Every dance move is a cliché. Everything is overdone. That’s not because Taja lacks skill or perspective. It’s a parody, a satire, a comment. It drew laughs, but it was done with crafty, winking seductive skill. In other words, it is a satire but never silly. It actually does the seduction that it paradoxically mocks.

Elizabeth Bergman is an accomplished modern dancer now residing in Iowa who brings considerable technical skill to her movement. In this piece she restricts herself largely to arm, hand, and torso gestures. The piece begins with her kneeling, back to the audience, in front of a mirror. There is a striptease element as she sheds layer after layer of tops and tights. But there are so many layers that it never gets salacious. I’m sure that many people will see this piece in different ways, but my personal experience was that I saw a woman searching for herself. 

Halfway through, she begins to cry out hoarsely, an inarticulate spasm of anguish. The interesting thing is that she accompanies this with richly detailed arm and hand gestures that evoke the peace and serenity of Middle Eastern and Northern Indian forms such as Bharata-Natyam and the discipline of yoga. There are the curved wrists brought up to the sternum while the torso arches backward achingly. There is the classic gesture of “Namaste.” I experienced great tension between the peace of the arms and the anguish of the self-examination, self-disclosure, and cries of pain, none of which found resolution.

The trio choreographed by Lynn Andrews features many post ”contact improv” elements such as pushing, pulling, and supporting. There are some low key standard lifts. It looks like peer-struggle among women. This breaks open into energetic contemporary movement, much of it in unison. At intervals a motif re-appears – swaying from side to side as if mesmerized.

The final solo, by Krista DeNio, begins with a monologue at a microphone on the upstage balcony of the Xperimental Theater, then moves down to the floor where a passionate solo occurs over a dense music collage. It’s a statement of struggle and perseverance. Notably, the music includes Edith Piaf, a French songstress of the 1940’s and 50’s who struggled and persevered all her life. She was older, not very cute, and alcoholic. She was also beloved. The music collage has an underlying drumbeat that is relentless and even military in its tone.

It cannot be any accident that the producers chose for house music to bracket the show with “La Vie, L’Amour” by Piaf just before the lights went down, and “Je Ne Regrette Rien” after the show, just after the lights came up. An oversimplified translation of the lyric to La Vie, L’Amour might be “Life is love, and love is life, but they can consume and destroy each other.” For Je Ne Regrette Rien the rough translation is captured by a lyric in the middle of the song that says, “I don’t regret anything. Sweep out my troubles, my pleasures, my loves. I’m starting all over from absolute zero.”

This is a thoughtful show. And very intense.

They’re at the XPerimental Theater in the Rarig Center. Their Fringe webpage is a Voices of Power.