Plano — Location, location, location. It’s not just a real estate slogan. It can also make or break the performing arts. Elledanceworks closes out their season with Elledanceworks 17 presented at the John Anthony Theatre on the campus of Collin College. The venue seems logical, since Elle is the resident professional dance company for Collin’s dance department, but is it a good choice for this performance?
The program opens with Tracy Kennedy’s Long Road Home with music by folk guitarist Doc Watson. Pedestrian dresses made of soft fabrics and muted colors enhance the country feel. Leisurely movements with a pleasant vibe dominate the dance, with some faint quirkiness popping up here and there. Although the dancing is thoughtful and deliberate, performance quality is a bit murky. Some appear happy, while others take a more pensive tone.
The sounds of the acoustic guitar continue with If You Go by Tiffanee Arnold. Melissa Bjork acts as the joyfully calm support to an occasional wayward Jennifer Dennison. Repetition in the movement phrases from one dancer to the other complement the idea driven by the title of the song by Fossil Collective: “And if you Go (I’m Coming Along)”.
Summing up the content of the next five pieces is like talking about Texas weather. If you don’t like it, just wait. It’ll change.
The easygoing nature of the first two pieces fades with co-director Michele Hanlon’s Long Goodbye, a wistful dance serving as recognition of those who care for loved ones to the end of their lives. The dancers begin in duets, as one tries to hang on to another. Hands touch faces, arms wrap around only for the other to fall out. Amidst the music, dancers speak of choices and regret. The mixing and layering of Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” is slightly off to give a vaguely unsettling feeling. Stoic qualities later give way to frantic movements. The duets come back, but only one partner participates, as she dances with a ragdoll partner, completely void of life.
Going to the opposite end of the spectrum is the serenely playful …so it goes..., set to “Dream a Little Dream of Me” by The Mamas and the Papas. Suspense then moves in with co-director Ronelle Eddings’ Other Half. Six dancers set in three duets begin with small hand movements as the music by Byetone thrums along. One partner stands behind the other and eerily moves her hand on the side of her partner’s torso, as an act of possession. Movements grow sharper and more forceful, and choreography repeats in a canon. Other maneuvers signifying manipulation of the other person end with the partners back where they started, only opposite. The other partner is now in possession.
Melissa Bjork’s snappy sticky supple slithers not only changes up the movement qualities but the mood of the music, as well. The Romanian gypsy brass band Fanfare Ciocarlia livens things up, but only half of the dance’s quality matches. Shaking body parts, spastic movements, and other various quirkiness give this dance the potential to be fun, but as in a previous dance, inconsistent and withdrawn performance qualities bring the energy down. The music begs for an exaggerated performance.
Energy is not lacking with Arnold’s Awakening, which includes members of the Collin Dance Ensemble for a total of 20 black-clad performers on stage. The first section consists of mostly simple unison movements—such as gestures, bouncing, and upper body releases—and the number of dancers on stage creates a neat effect. Motifs from this section flow into the next as the dancers split into groups and change up the levels. The final section exhibits the most excitement of the entire concert with running and flinging. Intense and fierce, it’s definitely the best one to watch.
So, back to the venue. The most prevalent shortcoming throughout the concert is an inconsistency in the energy and performance qualities of the dancers. At times, it feels as if the performers aren’t projecting enough the cover the space of the theater, so some subtleties in the choreography or the communication may not have come across. Perhaps a more intimate, black box setting would’ve worked better for this concert.