Consistency may not be The Barefoot Brigade Dance Festival's strong suit, but when this festival is good, it is very, very good.
With 11 works in the "All New Stuff" weekend, the final weekend of the festival (the previous two weekend programs featured completely different works), some of course came out better than others. The best were both dramatic and emotional, sometimes with the emotion reined in, at other times explosive.
There is something to be said about a solo danced almost entirely in silence—it creates immediate suspense. It certainly worked that way for Jessica Thomas in heim. She first appears near the rear of the stage, clad in baggy dark grey pants and two layers of shirts, one hand to her chest. Her face is not made up, her hair slides down over her eyes, but it is her gaze, steady and concentrated, that is at the heart and soul of the dance. She makes simple gestures like tilting her head back, or sliding a hand over her chest, then rests by holding a pose and looking steadily forward. She is involved in some private, emotional exploration that we are witnessing from a distance, fascinated and with respect. From time to time she pitches forward or whirls around with a sudden burst of energy, only to gathered herself and repeat the earlier gestures.
Quite in contrast to the simple and understated heim was Kerry Kreiman's Mister Universe. The props come out in full force (along with the personality of Lonny Joseph Gordon): chairs, ladders, boxes, suitcase, hat rack, mobile… So does the music: popular songs from a bygone era like "I'll Be Seeing You (and Looking at the Moon)" and "The Best is Yet to Come."
Short, bald, and stocky, Mr. Gordon commands attention whether he is pulling down a ball from a mobile representing the moon and sun, opening his suitcase to toss out flyers, or putting on a jacket or taking it off. His mobile face broadcasts whatever emotion flickers his way—joy, annoyance, surprise, sadness, pleasure—so that when he does a little jig or skips jauntily across the stage, he's adding fireworks to the mix.
Mister Universe seems dated, however, especially when contrasted with Danielle Georgiou Dance Group's What This Is Not About and Houston Metropolitan Dance Company's There Are Things We Don't Know We Share.
What This Is Not About was gratifyingly strange, featuring 10 dancers in an odd assortment of clothes, a score of industrial noise, and frequent chaotic outbursts. At one point, three women in identical dress and what seemed like boxes for shoes move forward, and one plants herself on the lap of an audience member. Later, she sits next to me, leans over, and says, can you help me take off my shoe?
There Are Things We Don't Know We Share was by itself worth the price of admission, and made it all the more a pity that the audience was so small. Seven dancers line up facing us, and there they remain except when one of the dancers breaks the ranks and embarks on a terrific, no-holds-barred solo. Each soloist either moves into the center, or, half hidden, dances behind the line. Their movement is large and daring, with easy weight shifts that have a leg flying one way and the head tilted the other.
Not until the end do they break away from the line, to weave in and out and at last to cluster in a happy, warm heap like so many puppies.
Ending the program on a cheery note, Christine S. Bergeron's Pinwheels and Roses made clever use of eight electric fans. The fans radiate inward in a circle so that when Carisa Armstrong saunters in carrying a pinwheel, she gets her pinwheel to whir very fast—compared to the puny response she got just by blowing at it. She dances like a sprite in an imaginary meadow, her dress and her hair billowing. The electricity shuts off, the fans die, the stage goes dark. When the light returns, the fans are on again, and a huge heap of rose petals is billowing everywhere. When Kathleen Byrne moves into that imaginary meadow her movements are as light and airy as the fluttering petals.
◊ 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.