Looking back over the summer of 2017, we remember some unusually fine dance concerts, including the first dance event of the summer, Lose Your Marbles Fringe Fest in Akron, a presentation of Neos Dance Theatre.
Lose Your Marbles brought together an enormous array of dancers and choreographers and presented them one after another on one stage in a 7-hour festival that came off without a hitch. We list our impressions here for purposes of documentation.
Following the instructions in our preview (http://coolcleveland.com/2017/06/dance-oriented-fringe-festival-lose-marbles-makes-debut-akron/), we drove down to Akron on June 10, parked for free in the nearby deck, and settled in on one of the old couches in the back of the repurposed Trolley Barn. The day was hot and fine, but the logistical realities of a festival soon began to assert themselves. Food. Water. Naps. Elsa left in search of food and water while Vic stretched out on the couch to hear the musical performances that took up the first 90 minutes of the festival. In our marriage this passes for division of labor.
Things started right on time when classical guitarist Jonathan Gangi came out on stage by himself and began playing a beautiful, calm piece in ¾ time, plucking the strings and working the frets so that his guitar sounded like the zither in the famous theme music for The Third Man. Vic listened and day dreamed about Orson Welles movies, for he knows next to nothing about notes and chords. But he stayed awake because this was interesting music, beautifully played, well miked. Other pieces Gangi played included If She Asks, a very beautiful waltz by Brazilian musician Dilermando Reis, and a Sonatina in 3 movements composed by guitarist John Russell.
Next, harpist Timbre Cierpke came onstage with a violinist and a percussionist. “I know you’re tired,” they sang. It was very pretty, very different, and very contemporary but Vic felt self-conscious about stretching out on the couch. The next piece sounded like a lullaby; appropriately enough, a baby in the audience cried briefly but was soon quieted. For the syncopated choruses, the percussionist left his drums to kneel at the foot of Cierpke’s harp and play a counterpoint on the strings. “This is very different from any harp repertoire I’ve ever heard,” said Vic. “The sweetness of the voices goes well,” said Elsa.
The program note indicated a 15 minute pause after Cierpke’s set, so Vic took a short walk, the better to appreciate the chalk / sidewalk art that had shown the way to Lose Your Marbles. (SLIDE SHOW)
Then right on schedule at 5:20pm it was Holly Handman-Lopez’ Tarry the Night, a dance for student ensemble, which used a short video projection and shadow play to punctuate the dancing. Contact partnering, rhythmic Africanist dancing, and rolling on the floor – improvisational forms — gave the student dancers assignments within their abilities but, to the credit of Handman-Lopez and her students, Tarry the Night looked set, structured, and well-rehearsed. Neos Dance Theatre Director Robert Wesner and at least one other Neos dancer also performed in this dance. Kudos to Lighting Designer / Technical Director Dennis Dugan who somehow made the video and shadow play visible even in the only slightly shady Trolley Barn.
Dancer / Choreographer Robin Prichard is a young white woman but for her piece, The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson), a young black man came out on stage wearing a business suit with a noose around his neck. He danced with exaggerated happiness to a recording of Keep on the Sunny Side, acknowledged applause, took off the noose, his jacket, and his shoes, and began a monologue as he danced. “You know, I’m finding it hard to make meaningful dances when people are getting shot in the street. I can’t help but wonder, does it matter what my pirouette is like?” A recording of Nat King Cole played while the dancer showed off some modest ballet skills. Later, dancing to a recording of Louis Armstrong singing They Can’t Take That Away From Me, he displayed some advanced skills including flares and a front flip. “What’s your solution?” he asked finally. Vic had only recently wished for more dances with an effective political statement. We applaud Prichard and her dancer; if we learn his name we will rewrite this paragraph to acknowledge his performance.
Parenthetically, we offer an answer to the rhetorical question, “When people are getting shot in the street, does my pirouette matter?” We acknowledge that this is a particularly perilous time for people of color in the United States of America but we humbly suggest that the arts and ballet in particular can have a powerful positive effect even in times of terrible strife. Consider the role of the ballet in Russia during World War I and II or in Britain during the Blitz; ballet dancers reached out tirelessly to soldiers and civilians, providing consolation and a renewed sense of national identity. Our readers may already be familiar with the remarks of Royce Zackery.
Next, two dancers from Verb Ballets – Kelly Korfhage and Antonio Morillo – performed 3:00am choreographed by Andrew Carroll. We’ve written before about this contemporary pas de deux, a sweet and tender study of a romantic relationship. (https://clevelandconcertdance.com/2017/02/20/first-blog-post/). Korfhage and Morillo put their considerable skills to work creating the appropriate mood.
Next was Barakat, a group dance choreographed by Ashley Pavy, a recent graduate of Wright State University where all but one of the 8 dancers are students. Barakat is an Arabic word meaning “blessing” but it also has an array of slang meanings, both positive and negative. Pavy’s description of her intentions (LoseYourMarbles.org) suggests that she’s a Muslim-American investigating emotion rather than ideology from the perspective of her personal faith. On first viewing, her dance establishes an upbeat mood, rises to a climax without overplaying its hand, and resolves in a deft interplay of light and movement. Another dance that tries to make what could be seen as a political statement.
In the next set of dances, choreographer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn’s Nothing In Particular (http://coolcleveland.com/2016/03/dance-review-neos-dance-media-and-movement-akroncivic-by-elsa-johnson-victor-lucas/) overshadowed everything with its orange fright wigs and pulsing animated projections. Too bad, because other dances in that set included a subtle duet exploring family dysfunction which Fenn set on herself and Neos dancer Matthew Roberts; Playing House; and Handman-Lopez’ Eleven Years In, a duet about a marriage on the rocks which she set on herself and Wesner. Similarly, we hope for another look at Kaustavi Sarkar’s Odissi solo; Sarkar brought along Brian (no last name in the program note) on drums and Hans Utter on sitar.
The 4th set began with a much-anticipated solo choreographed and danced by Terk Lewis Waters, a well-reviewed member of Complexions Contemporary Ballet. The piece, Paradise, Originally, showed off some of Lewis Waters’ performing skills including rapping and some very impressive ballet adagio, but the composite nature of the piece — let-me-show-you-another-of-my-skills — undercut its overall impression. We doubt that this was Lewis Waters’ best choreographic foot forward.
On a completely different note, Duane Gosa of Ballet Trockadero – or should we refer to him by his stage name, Helen Highwaters – performed the Paquita Variation. Gosa played the beginning of the famous variation for laughs, enlisting a stagehand to steady him for a high développé. But then, having allowed us to laugh, he wowed us by nailing the big moment of the variation, a difficult series of fouettés which he completed 5 times rather than the traditional 3 times.
Then Verb Ballets’ Kate Webb and Michael Escovedo reminded us how effectively Daniel Precup’s choreography for Ne Me Quitte Pas portrays a couple at once very unhappy and deeply intimate.
The 4th set ended with the world premiere of Good Night, Day choreographed by Joseph Morrissey and performed by 4 Neos dancers. We found it different, interesting, and tasty.
The 5th set included Inlet Dance Theater, a company that we’ve avoided since they underwhelmed us in 2014 at Cleveland Public Theater’s DanceWorks. At Lose Your Marbles and, later in the summer of 2017, Cain Park, Inlet continued to underwhelm us with rehashes of old choreographic material and marginally talented dancers. However much we like Inlet’s Pilobolus-style partnering and their upbeat, dance-serving-people outlook, and however much we wished them well at Jacob’s Pillow this summer, and we did, we’ll leave Inlet to their many admirers.
Next in the 5th set, GroundWorks DanceTheatre performed what were apparently excerpts of Chromatic, a dance we wrote about on our website. (https://clevelandconcertdance.com/2017/07/31/groundworks-cain-park/)
The Akron-based theater group, Ma’Sue Productions, performed Body Memories, a piece that reportedly broke new ground for them by emphasizing movement. It begins with a vignette in which a woman comes home and changes out of her construction work clothes to put on ultra-feminine lounging clothes. So far so good, but as the piece went on we found it difficult to keep up with its intentions. Were we sitting too far back? Were the players under-miked? Were we too white to connect with an African-American group?
At the end of the 5th set, Gosa returned to perform Dying Swan. As with the Paquita Variation, his emphasis was on broad comedy but he showed love and respect for his materials even as he milked them for laughs and the audience gave him a big round of applause. What is it about Dying Swan? Mikhail Fokine claimed to have choreographed it on Anna Pavlova in a few hours in 1905 and Pavlova went on to perform it thousands of times around the world. Even as we chuckle at Dying Swan today, we feel its power over our emotions and our idea of what ballet is.
The featured group of the festival, Chicago-based dance theater company Lucky Plush was still to come. We had seen them when they participated in the Cleveland Play House New Ground Theatre Festival in 2013 (http://coolcleveland.com/2013/04/new-theatre-festival/) and were eager to see what they’d brought to Lose Your Marbles.
They were scheduled to start at 9:30 pm but by 9:17 the dancers were already onstage, eating, talking with each other, and talking on cell phones. It quickly became apparent that the dancers were miked and their casual remarks were part of the performance. This was apparently an example of a script “generated by the performers themselves” as Lucky Plush Artistic Director Julia Rhodes puts it. So, it was a script full of non sequiturs and casual remarks as well as dancing, which may sound like a recipe for incomprehensible confusion, but see this excerpt (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VwWMLs7C9lE) to appreciate how skillfully paced and sharply funny was Cinderbox 2.0.
The 2017 edition of Lose Your Marbles exceeded our expectations. We’re already looking forward to next year. Note to producers for next year: keep those old couches and bring in a few food carts.
Lose Your Marbles fringe fest was presented in Akron’s Trolley Barn located behind 47 N. Main Street on Saturday 6/10/2017. Learn more at https://www.loseyourmarbles.org/.
Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas