Dallas — For a company that prides itself on providing opportunities and collaboration for local artists, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre has taken a surprising turn in their season opener, Wrapped and Uncovered: An Evening of Dance Unraveling and Unveiling presented at LIFE in Deep Ellum. The two works on the program were created by choreographers living (at the moment) outside of Texas. Former M2DT performer Megan Odom presents a segment of her thesis concert, a culminating project of her graduate studies at University of Colorado Boulder titled Including You. California-based choreographer Randee Paufve sets an abridged version of her 2009 evening-length work That Obscure Subject of Desire.
Company members perform Odom’s work for Act I and once again provide an intimate experience by utilizing the floor space. In the spirit of changing things up, however, they add a new dimension and use the raised proscenium as well, which is covered with small pieces of colored bubble wrap. Kiera Amison stands in the middle of the airy mound. Small movements grow larger, and soon her maneuvers find her wading through the pile. A couple of narrations (from the Jenny Hollowell’s short story “A History of Everything, Including You”) accompany the music and speak of origins and beginnings.
On the floor, strips of green bubble wrap form a grid on which the dancers move. The wrap behaves as one expects when force is applied. It pops. Over and over. The normally gratifying sound grows disconcerting as more and more dancers enter the space.
Compared to what M2DT normally has to offer, this movement vocabulary is more contemplative and less athletic in the first half. Mixtures of sharp and sustained keep the attention somewhat, but overall the tone is even and deliberate, until the dancers begin to shred the neatly arrange bubble grid. Animalistic qualities dominate as the dancers turn into hoarders and capture pieces of the plastic for themselves. More strips appear on the floor, and an ensemble of ladies race around the space—even through the audience, to the shock of many—with several exciting but frightening near-collisions.
The energy calms as all pieces of wrap end up on the stage, and the final narration changes tone to talk of a relationship ending—thus the emphasis on origins. If “we” have an ending, what is the beginning?
Act II takes place completely on the proscenium stage and is shorter. Aspects of love and desire are explored through individual, ensemble, and duet choreography. Dancers don mostly black attire with hints of gold or brilliant pink. Movements start out exciting and spatially intense, as if the dancers are trying to reach outside of themselves more than what seems possible. Facial expressions give the impression of one drunk in love. The somewhat awkwardly emotional vocals of Björk add to the ethereal feeling.
Happy and surreal give way to manipulation with a series of duets. Anna Wueller Diaz’s beautiful solo embodies feelings power and determination with stunning extensions and grand rond de jambes. An intense and physical duet between Kevin Goyburu and Veronica Ramirez shows a harsher side to love, while a jubilant Brandy Niccolai in the next segment runs triumphantly with a red ribbon. A vivacious, jazzy quality follows which gives way to a more introspective solo by Meghan Cardwell-Wilson. The piece ends in ensemble work, as the dancers form a “London bridge” only to melt into each other.
Paufve writes a short explanation of her work for Act II, and while notes can be helpful for an audience member to decipher what the dancers are doing, these seem to work against the viewing process. Multiple references to Romeo and Juliet can easily conjure definitive thoughts that don’t seem to fit what happens in the dance itself. The brain is torn as it attempts to connect the dots between the words on paper and the movement on stage.
A similar effect can happen with narration, as with the first work. The press release for Odom’s piece mentions abstract ideas such as adaptation, insulation, and evolving cultures. The first two text segments seem to fit, but then the narrator moves from abstract to very personal, as she speaks of her own relationship ending. The switch turns the whole piece on its head.
Part of the confusion probably also stems from the fact that these two works are truncated versions of the whole. Excerpts sometimes confuse more than illuminate.
Regardless of the choreographic mysteries produced, the dancers perform admirably, especially through the technical difficulties of Saturday’s performance. Much growth is seen among the newer dancers, and it’ll be interesting to see how this experience informs the company’s future choreography.