Plano — It’s a tricky thing, this difference between the mundane, the imaginative, and—far rarer—the inspired. Elledanceworks 19 landed some of the time in the former camp Friday night at Collin College Black Box Theatre, had some breakthrough on the imaginative, and skirted close at the end—very close—to inspired.
How many times have ladders, mirrors, umbrellas and balloons showed up in a dance? Often, but probably never all four at once, as they did in Delanie Bitler’s 7 Years. The props can be a clever ploy, the most obvious being a smashed mirror: if you break it you will have seven years of bad luck. Tiffanee Arnold seemed to have no luck at all: the ladder is a bit treacherous, her mirror is shattered and put back together with tape, her umbrella is a broken wing. In the meantime, she and four other dancers in simple red dresses scamper around merrily without a care in the world, that is, except when Ms. Arnold eyes her mirror, tries to open her umbrella and watches in dismay balloons floating away. The music, Haydn’s Symphony No. 94 in G major, provides a note of gaiety, suitable for balletic chassé and jetés.
Clever, yes, but not imaginative.
Melissa Bjork’s Cast Out fared better, this time featuring another loner. (Do we have a theme here: be part of the group or suffer? Even Melissa Johnson’s A Thread May Break ends with one lone dancer trailing yards of fabric as five others fade away in the gloom.)
Cast Out opened with an arresting image of four dancers in gunmetal gray staggered in dramatic, sculpted poses. They slowly move only to return to the pose. They eventually fan out, sometimes holding hands or touching another’s face, or at other times leaping other a body. It turns aggressive as Ms. Johnson wards off the others, shoving one aside and then coolly walking away. Despite the title, she has not been cast out; she breaks free.
A Thread May Break opens in very dim light, barely revealing what looks like a big, white hump. Eventually, something stirs below and slowly four figures emerge. They are joined by two others and use the fabric to flip and spin and toss. They fall to the side and roll back and forth to repetitive music that is both bouncy and mournful. The fabric falls to the floor, and with her back to us, Melissa Bjork lets it trail behind as the other disappear. Despite the tender touching of hands to faces and the many close connections, relationships, it appears, can be fragile.
Amy Dillard’s The Bowie Effect gave 12 students from the Collin Dance Ensemble the chance to dash in and out, whirl around, slow down to do a bunny walk, and in general, capture some of the spirit of David Bowie’s DJ and Fashion. The same ensemble performed Amanda Hunt’s Headrest for My Soul—again, with sunny ease.
Struggling through whatever obstacles fall in our way seems to be the meaning of co-artistic director’s Michele Hanlon’s It Comes Like the Tide. Set to violin and insistent background music, Delanie Bitler and Ms. Bjork mouth unintelligible words as they count on their fingers, move forward and back in unison (like the tide), and after the music ends, back away in darkness. Simple, but evocative.
By far the darkest work on the program was co-artistic director Ronelle Eddings’ My Mind (MTL). Five women in severe black dress edged with lace stand still and close to one another. They represent different facets of Mary Todd Lincoln (the MTL in the title), who had witnessed the death of three sons and husband only to later have her fourth son commit her to an insane asylum.
Their faces are severe, their moment fierce and stiff as each takes off in a different direction, frantic at times, driven, caged, desperate. They bunch up with arms crisscrossed, holding tight to one another like chained prisoners. Their faces, their bodies, their moment say “I am trapped in a world I don’t know.”
All five dancers were excellent: Ms. Bitler, Ms. Bjork, Ms. Dillard, Tracy Kennedy and Stacey Sparks.
The darkness of the work brings to mind José Limón’s harrowing The Moor’s Pavane, Lestor Horton’s disturbing The Beloved and Flemming Flints’ even more grim The Lesson. While each of these works ends with an innocent woman’s death, My Mind suggests that there are other kinds of death, death of hope. If My Mind is more of a picture than a play, more of a theme than a drama, it nevertheless resonates home.
» 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.