Fort Worth — “Hi!” says a perky voice. “Hi” responds the audience. Then follows a spate of “Hi’s” as six dancers line up in a tight row facing the audience. “What’s up,” one says. “I’m fine.” “How are you?” “I’m great,” someone chirps. “Wonderful.” “Amazing.” Chirp, chirp, chirp. When someone says, “I’m great,” another chimes in, “I’m better than you.” Eyes widen at that one.
In the center pixyish Kelsey Rohr dashes cold water. “Bad” she says, or maybe “sad.” The others (David Cross, Chadi el-Khoury, Alex Karigan Farrior, Sarah Hammonds and Joshua L. Peugh) fall splat to the floor.
And so on this disarming note begins Fabio Liberti’s Here is Not There for Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, performed Friday night at Erma Lowe Hall, Studio Theatre on the Texas Christian University campus.
The five who fall recover, and the same scenario starts all over again. Again, Ms. Rohn dashes cold water, again, everyone falls splat to the floor, and so it goes.
Eventually they are cradling her. She’s sad, she’s unhappy, she can’t help it. She relays a tale about her mother and the new shoes that made her mother “SO HAPPY,” skirting about the room as she relates her mother’s delight, and the more she remembers, the more hysterical she gets.
It’s all kind of wacky and disarming, but alas, it doesn’t stay that way. We are off in childhood-remembering land: somebody remembers something about kindergarten, someone about “my dad” and Ms. Farrior recalls the gun battle with her brother and how she was always the one to fall. As Nancy Sinatra sings, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” she pulls up her shirt to reveal a painted target. But despite that clever note, despite the pratfalls, the slinks, runs, crawls and bursts of energy, it’s not enough to prevent text from swallowing up movement. It’s the peril that just about every modern dance choreographer faces when incorporating words into dance, and sadly, few succeed.
Much more straightforward was Mr. Peugh’s The Rite of Spring. Set to Igor Stravinsky’s very famous score and first performed two months ago at Dallas City Performance Hall, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance poured out the energy to match the music. But somehow, something was lacking. Danger perhaps? The harrowing certainty that things are not going to turn out well for the sacrificial maiden?
The conceit is clever: instead of a grass field peopled by peasants the action takes place in a high school gymnasium on prom night. Prom night has its own rituals, barely changing from year to year. Chairs and benches serve as bleachers, strings of ribbons hang from the ceiling, and the partygoers—girls in 60s-style flounced dresses and boys in white coats and vests—enter the gym in a mode of high anticipation. In one anachronistic departure, we have a transgender student (Chadi El-Khoury) wearing a stylish jade dress while his lesbian partner is dressed in white jacket and black pants.
The night starts out with that familiar syrupy slow dance of bodies plastered together, but soon changes mood and direction, ranging from wild runs, slides to the floor, luminous lifts, hand-stands, and everything in between.
The dancing grows increasingly vigorous as couples split apart. And, as expected, someone is bound to stray. Mr. Peugh ditches Ms. Farrior for the transgender curly-haired, red-lipped Mr. El-Khoury, moving backward with lips planted together.
Someone is also bound to be the Chosen One, and it turns out to be our transgender one. He turns out to be no pushover. The others move in, circle, and do their best to intimidate, but he is not easily cowed, standing immobile with black eyes glowering into space. That he is spared at the last moment makes for an anticlimactic ending. There may be a ritual involved in a high school prom, but it doesn’t—in this ballet anyway—lead to death. High school bathrooms are more deadly.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.
» Photos courtesy Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image