“Thrower of Light”: A view

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by John Munger | 7/31/09 • Cathy Wright’s assemblage of eight dances, collectively entitled “Thrower of Light,” is a scaldingly intense dance experience. She is spot-on when she self describes this show as “Tales from the hidden corners of the human psyche.” With the exception of the last piece, a welcome romp called “Irish Pirate Madness,” the entire 58 minute show fearlessly plunges into maelstroms of power, loneliness, aging versus youth, the secret inner pathways of personal evil, and the struggles of seeking solid spiritual ground.

The cast is superbly rehearsed and highly skilled. It includes Rachel Barnes (BFA from Univ of Kansas City and a national performer), Bryan Gerber (who also performs with Ballet of the Dolls and ARENA Dances), Alex Loch (who scored big as a senior from St. Cloud State at last Spring’s Minnesota gathering of the College Dance Festival) Debra McGee ( free-lancer with several Twin Cities groups and formerly toured internationally with Garth Fagan Dance), and Jennifer Mack, (pointe shoe ballerina with Continental Ballet and seasoned modern dancer with numerous Twin Cities groups).

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

Pause to take deep breath.

Christine Maginnis (whose distinguished long career with Zenon Dance Company is legendary), Kristin Ostebee (who also performs with Jennifer Glaws and Out On A Limb Dance Company), Sharon Picasso (a seasoned performer with degrees in dance from Boston Conservatory and connections to half a dozen Twin Cities dance groups), Tim Rehborg (recent dance degree graduate of St. Olaf College), Teresa Tjepkes (2008 U of MN graduate who also performs with Justin Jones) and Taja Will ( a rising face on the scene with performance and choreographic credits in USA, England, Mexico, and Japan).

Whew. I take the time and trouble to detail this material about the cast because the dancing in this show is flawlessly committed, skillful, in focus, and deeply affecting. It has been said that first class people work with first class people but second class people work with third class people. Cathy Wright is a first class choreographer and these are first class dancers.

Several of the pieces in this show are excerpted from larger works. In particular, “The Demon Familiar” features an extended shape-driven solo in a tight spotlight for Cathy Wright herself, followed by an intertwining duet for Rachel Barnes and Sharon Picasso. This piece cries out most for continuation and completion. Other works, such as the macho “Phallousy” for Alex Loch, Bryan Gerber and Tim Rehberg, can stand alone despite having been excerpted from larger pieces.

If you’re new to dance you should be warned that the high skills of choreography and performance in this show do not look like Las Vegas flashy fun. But you should be encouraged, even urged, to go see this show because this is no navel-gazing experimental self-indulgence of the sort that has given “modern dance” a questionable reputation over the last 20 years. This is a moving, enthralling, sometimes disturbing demonstration of what modern dance can be as an instrument of virtuosity, expressiveness and power.

If you’re a regular dance-goer, don’t miss this one. It’s delicious on many levels. But it’s also daring, controversial and challenging. Different people coming from different well-informed aesthetics will have varying views on this show. It’s a show that merits discussion. I’ve already gotten an e-mail this morning from a colleague asking about my take on this powerfully committed but very challenging work.

Two last comments. One is that Doris Humphrey famously said that “All dances are too long.” This is sometimes true in this show. But let me add that Cathy Wright brings two -very rare skills to this work. First, every dance has an idea, which means that none are just movement strung together and none ever look like they’re just filling up the music.

Second, it’s fairly rare and very welcome to see performers who can invest the choreography with authenticity and commitment rather than mannerism, empty use of technique, or slavish adherence to a style. But it’s even more rare to see a choreographer who can create choreographic material for her dancers with the same authenticity, commitment, skill and openness to what the dance requires. She has the ability to make virtuosic movement look as natural as walking down the street, and to make ordinary or pedestrian movement look virtuosic.

Put this one on your schedules.

NOTE: This blog does not reflect the opinions or policies of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, Dance/USA, nor anyone other than the author. These are purely and utterly my own observations and views.

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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