Fort Worth — Kerry Kreiman and Contemporary Dance/Fort Worth change things up by keeping it fairly to close home for the CDFW Exchange: Choreographer’s Showcase, which closed out the 12th annual Modern Dance Festival at the Modern in Fort Worth. For the last several years, the exchange has highlighted choreographers and performers well outside the vast borders of Texas, including Bill Evans, Don Halquist and others.
Even though the choreographers vary from year to year, a mainstay of the Showcase experience is the setting. Dancers move around an intimately set stage with a reflecting pool in the background, colored by lush greens and the ever-changing hues of a clear sky.
The brilliant colors of the backdrop work especially well with the first piece of the evening, an exciting Wind on Mountain by Sue Collins. Dancers in short dresses of purple, green, blue muted tones leap around the stage with fury in this ballet-inspired piece. The whirlwind of jumps and turns with a strong use of breath portray the volatility of weather on the mountains. The performers exhibit excellent control, but sometimes that quality contains their movement a little too much, instead of allowing for more risk-taking.
Fort Worth’s Amy L. Sleigh makes a welcomed return to the stage with Vernacular Architecture, created with Candace Turner. Inspired by the similarities between body shapes and building, Sleigh dons a GoPro camera, recording her surroundings as she performs a variety of distinct shapes while moving across all areas of the space. Her focused and mysterious performance quality is always thrilling to watch and makes a wonderful complement to the sounds of the didgeridoo in the music.
A bench draped in purple and the sultry sounds of Astor Piazzolla set the tone for a calmly tense Claret Tango, choreographed by Loris Anthony Beckles for Tina Mullone and Lela Bell Wesley of Beckles Dancing Company. Slow, luxurious movement presents a steady relationship between the two dancers, but their faces tell otherwise. Wesley remains apprehensive and sometimes confused, while Mullone dons a placid and almost smug appearance. Resolution arrives at the end with Wesley finding peace.
The beautiful, ordered movements and bright colors of the previous pieces give way to vastly different vocabulary of a gray-clad Jessica Thomas in heima, which means “home” in Icelandic. Limbs awkwardly stretch off a delicately isolated torso, while a child-like wonder paints Thomas’ face. She seems to depict one lost and content in a dazed, fractured environment. It’s utterly fascinating, yet probably the most inaccessible and puzzling piece of the program.
Sarah Newton and musician John Hopkins collaborate for Inside Out. Hopkins plays the harpsichord (yes, they brought one out on stage!), as Newton skims, hovers, and slides across the stage with dynamically controlled maneuvers. The two interact so well that it’s difficult to discern whether the music dictates the movement or vice versa. Newton finds some moments to smile, which breaks up the monotony of the expressionless modern dance face that many performers succumb to, and demonstrates a firm mastery of musicality.
The most entertaining work of the evening comes from Danielle Georgiou Dance Group in Under Her Skin. Highly theatrical and thoroughly delightful, five dancers in black and white toss, carry, and hoard a pile of pastel paper pom-poms to George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Two consistently look angry and panicked, while three others playfully and purposefully annoy the other group. It’s reminiscent of boarding school girls irritating the school mistresses, and as with many Georgiou pieces, the fourth wall is non-existent.
The only non-Texas company, M2 with Mel Mobley and Mullone, hails from Monroe, La., with another music and movement collaboration. The style of In Convenience is more experimental than the Newton/Hopkins piece, and both artists engage in the music and movement, which is something a little different. Music tends towards the erratic and sometimes sounds like a 5-year-old is playing, yet Mobley executes with a captivating skill. Mullone’s vocabulary incorporates some typical modern dance moves, although some maneuvers match the irregularity of the melody. One is not quite sure where the piece will head, and since it’s an excerpt and a work in progress, missing context is likely vital.
Muscle Memory Dance Theatre revives a segment of California choreographer Randee Pauvfe’s That Obscure Subject of Desire. The same issue of context pops up here, as this is only an excerpt of an already abridged work, but the dancers’ performances create a pleasant viewing experience independent of a discernable theme. Pauvfe’s choreographic style works well with this company, and Meghan Cardwell-Wilson, Kevin Goyburu, and Kiera Amison beautifully display her lovely vocabulary.
The closing number and Kreiman’s collaboration with dancers of CDFW is absolutely brilliant. Set to a mix of ’70s disco songs, A History of Modern Dance (abridged), pulls iconic images and movements from famous modern dance works and melds them with vernacular dance of the 20th century, inviting the viewer to guess the choreographer. I hope this is one that comes back in the future.
Overall, this year’s showcase was the most enjoyable of CD/FW’s showcases at this festival. It gave the audience variety and some accessibility, while still inviting them to ponder and reflect.
» Below is the GoPro video from Sleigh's Vernacular Architecture, from Thursday, June 23. It gives the perspective of the dancer: lights, floor, audience, etc.