“Seeing” at the Ritz Theater—A view


by John Munger | 8/6/09 • When I see not one dancer but an entire cast execute (get ready for some jargon) double petite rond de jombe en l’air while leaving the ground in a temps levee I know that I am in the presence of serious performers. This performance is clean, technically competent, and committed. Those are no small things.

This show offered a broad palette in the sense that the first piece was dancey, the second employed pedestrian gesture and movement in a contemporary way, and the third offered a three-part evocation of a natural setting (a frog-pond) with classical concepts delivered in contemporary ballet idiom. Make no mistake. Contemporary ballet idiom is probably even more rigorous than “classical ballet” was in the 1940’s – 1970’s.

going through the movements is the blog of john munger, one of seven bloggers covering the minnesota fringe festival for the daily planet.

The opening piece was brief and appropriate. What we call a “curtain-raiser.” As such it was excellent.

The second piece is the heart of why some people seemingly love this show and some do not. It is quite lengthy and it does not include any wham-bam tricks that would appeal especially to newbie dance audiences. Nor is it funny. Serious dance people will also find problems in terms of development and structure. The performance is heroically fabulous.

I think this piece is deeply flawed but I also have high respect for its intent and its effort.

The basic premise is that life is structured as a cycle but you can oppose the cycle by getting better or something. A young woman awakes, ablutes, commutes, answers way too many phone calls at work, makes her way home, undresses, and goes to bed. Fade-out of lights. Then fade-up and she starts again. It happens over and over again. On each cycle things change. She becomes more energetic, less mechanical, more vibrant, and so forth. But in the end the day comes to a close, the lights fade, and she gets up the next morning to the same sequence.

The message is overwhelmingly clear. Work-life in America lacks humanity.

That’s the success of the piece. Message delivered. That’s also the overwhelming flaw of the piece. A dull life honestly depicted becomes a dull dance. Duhhhhhhhh.

This has nothing to do with the exquisite performance by soloist Audrey Lowry. She is fully committed throughout, no small task, and she clearly has full serious technical skills as well as the more nuanced elements called for by this piece.

There are five cycles of working days in this piece. Yes, they did change, but they did not go much of anywhere. I was struck by the fact that Audrey always came to formal first position in the upstate left corner, but on the fourth cycle she came to fifth instead of first. Ta Daaa!!! Change!!!

Begging your pardon, no. No, it doesn’t work well enough. Dancers might appreciate it intellectually. Teachers at MFA programs might applaud it. But a random audience will hardly even notice. The attempt to create change and evolution was there for those who could see it, but the theatrical sensibility of how to communicate that to an audience was not in gear. The cast got it and maybe some dance professionals in the audience got it, but that’s not good enough. It has to be clear to a general audience or, hey, you’re not going to HAVE a general audience. That was the big problem with this interestingly conceived and excellently-performed piece. And in fact with most of the show.

Welcome to America. The land where dance is viewed as “weird” unless it can do double tours or look like something you can imagine doing yourself.

These folks are recently out of college or graduate programs, plus a couple of high-school persons looking forward to college. I think they’re great. I think they have done damn good work and have overcome logistical challenges to make this show get off the ground. That’s no small thing. I can’t give them “five kitties” because they’re competing with people who are just plain more seasoned and it shows. But I can sure say that they work well, are honest about their ideas, and deserve being seen.

Ten years from now they will make work that is fully invested and richly conceived. Some of it will be seen as fabulous, some as cutting edge, some as old-hat, some as exciting, and some as mainstream blah-blah. Who knows? I speak from experience. My own work is old-hat, even though I do it very well. Life goes on.

The reality now is that they did a fabulous job of coming out to us all. Warts, roses, and all. May their strengths remain and may their learning experiences be useful.

They still have two performances at The Ritz Theater: Fri at 7:00 and Sun at 2:30

John Munger (jrmdance@aol.com) has been performing, teaching, choreographing, researching and writing about dance for about 40 years. He teaches at Zenon, day-jobs for Dance/USA, and still hasn’t gotten much of it right.

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