Fort Worth — Upon entering the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth last Friday, I found myself surrounded by brightly colored cartoonish flowers covering most of the wall space—smiling faces at their centers. This overwhelming visual experience provided the setting for Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth’s opening event, CD/FW Dance Exchange: A Choreographers Showcase, at the 15th annual Modern Dance Festival at the Modern.
Similar to past productions, the festival ambitiously featured 12 pieces from mostly local dance artists. However, this year, each selection had been inspired by The Modern’s current exhibition: Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg. Known for mixing high and low brow art, Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s work exhibits his famous “superflat” aesthetic, which takes themes of two-dimensional anime and plants them at the center of high brow art. Characteristically, his work includes bold colors, busy, chaotic patterns, animated characters in dreamlike landscapes, and a sense of movement and flow amidst the strange juxtapositions.
With such a large collection of inspiration, choreographers embraced the challenge by producing works full of surprising oddities, immersive experiences, and cartoon qualities. The first half of the evening contained nine shorter works of varied styles and success.
Mary Hill Ed.D., of Lightbodies Geometries performed two solos of astonishing similarities. Only a costume change differentiated Hill’s floor work, rolls, and slides. Short and unremarkable, Double Infinity and Current began the trend of “companion dances.” CD/FW followed this trajectory with Flat and Super Flat. Both pieces centered on Amanda Wright’s relationship with a large, flat, grayish canvas. In Flat, Wright hid behind the canvas, gradually peeking flexed fingers, awkward feet, and bent elbows out from random sides. With live accompaniment from John Hopkins, sounds from John Cage created an abstract surrounding to the quirky piece. Pulling directly from Murakami’s coined phrase, Super Flat reflected on the artist’s tendencies for re-imagination and re-creation. Functioning as an almost-parody of the original piece, Super Flat reinvented Wright’s character as a superhero examining the canvas. Falls, trips, and missteps added a level of silliness and childlike wonder to its serious predecessor.
A refreshing change in style, Becoming Viral offered a darker take on Murakami’s usually perky tone. Choreographed by Claudia Orcasitas, the piece featured Najwa Seyedmorteza’s process of undressing/dressing, composure/unraveling, and conceal/revealing. Accompanied by spoken word and Brittany Padilla’s live score, terms like “monster” echoed through the room as Seyedmorteza crawled and inverted herself while marking lines on her body with a variety of colored pens.
Following the more serious theme, the subtle, understated work in progress beyond the gaze from M2 showed Tina Malone in beautiful, angular holds and releases. Entanglement featuring Jackie Milan and Tatum Friedson engaged in this gentle tone with a series of connected partner work. More amateur in nature, the piece lacked the confidence and presence of the other movers.
Tie ‘Dying For Harmonium’ and Paper Parade shifted into happier themes. Tie ‘Dying For Harmonium’ accessed Murakami’s interpretation of expression and emotion as Jessica Thomas, clad in a flowing tie-dyed dress, pranced, wiggled, and bounced around the stage. The seemingly playful gestures flashed to creepy, clown like facial expressions. CD/FW’s Paper Parade began with performers slicing, chopping, and kicking through white butcher paper in ninja fashion. Described as a “happening structured improvisation, “ Artistic Director Kerry Kreiman then invited audience members to join in the paper tearing and paper costume designing before calling for a pre-intermission dance jam. I left this piece feeling confused at any choreographic or thematic goals. It appeared to be a slightly chaotic attempt at audience engagement.
An off-balance second half held three pieces—all of which consisted of more theatrical influences. Eyes Around The World incorporated the props of Aaron Levy, The Circusball Ninja. Levy jumped from one giant ball to the next while juggling and jumping rope. I’m unsure of why this was included in a modern dance festival, but the piece was a crowd pleaser.
CD/FW’s This Dance is Not Japanese showed a collection of disconnected movement sections. Containing statuesque group poses, a trench-coat-runway-fashion-show, sharp vs. sweeping solos, strobe lights, and another audience inclusive dance party; the work was over-packed with themes.
For the finale, guests danced outside the museum to watch Project in Motion’s Tara Kolberg captivate in aerial silks. Pearl Diver proved beautiful and thrilling with Kolberg’s gravity defying sways and falls, but once again seemed out of place in a modern dance festival.
While some pieces lacked order and a relationship to the theme of the evening, others truly embraced Takashi Murakami’s artistic qualities. Under an interesting premise, this year’s Modern Dance Festival introduced a collaborative artistic experience that could have benefited from some extra editing and streamlining.