Saturday, August 16, 2014

IndyFringe Friday evening report: That sinking feeling over the course of three shows

Ever notice that when you tell someone close to you about the bad day you just had, doing it in chronological order seems more satisfying?

Sure, if the worst thing happened in the middle of all the stress and disappointment, that might take precedence in your account. Otherwise, relating the messy details as they happened can be almost soothing. You settle down when you submit consciously to time-bound recollection.

Program illustration for DK dancers' mixed show.
That's what I'll try here, though I can't beg any special indulgence from blog readers, grateful as I am for each and every one of you. Let's start with "New Voices: DK Dancers Choreograph Themselves," which I saw at 6 p.m. Friday at Theatre on the Square. The show's title directs the audience's expectations: Actual "voices" are not a part of what Dance Kaleidoscope does, of course, but the wider meaning of "voice" connotes an individualistic perspective expressed through an artistic medium.

In this sense, we peer within aspects of personality conceived in contemporary-dance terms and set upon members of the company in six new pieces, one each by Justin Sears-Watson, Noah Trulock, Zach Young, Mariel Greenlee, Jillian Godwin, and Stuart Coleman.

Each of the choreographers demands much of his or her colleagues, and they delivered mightily on opening night. The consistent rapport of the company when they embody the vision of its artistic director, David Hochoy, is carried through in "New Voices" as well.

The program's subtitle should let you know what to expect, too. The dancers are indeed choreographing themselves, as indicated by statements in the printed programs and the brief introduction each choreographer makes from the stage. The expressive thrust is mostly dark. Tackling matters of addiction, sexual orientation, difficult personal relationships, and personal struggle related to the choice of dance as a career, five of the pieces set conflict against a measure of triumph. Overall, the victories are provisional at best; images of suffering persist.

Thus, in retrospect, I was most grateful for the sunniest work, second in the program order: Noah Trulock's "Fleeting Moments."  Brightly costumed by Cheryl Sparks and set to a bubbly Philip Glass saxophone piece, "Fleeting Moments" had a busyness in common with its program companions — but with a difference. It was tidier and more buoyant, and joy has been an emotion that DK has traditionally conveyed well. We needed to see a little more of it in this program.

We also needed to see more focus. Theatre on the Square's shallow, wide stage lured the choreographers into spreading the action out to the margins. A lot of effort was expended re-establishing a center to several of the pieces. Of the other five works,  Mariel Greenlee's "XXO" had the most convincing arc — a nicely regulated progress from small to big to small again. The authentic community feeling in the middle was actually thrilling. Greenlee's choreographic experience in several local theater productions clearly stood her in good stead in fashioning something cohesive out of a variety of emotions and sequences of movement.

Next for me came "Fata Morgana," a storytelling presentation by Loren Niemi at the Phoenix Theatre's Basile Stage.  The title alludes to a desert mirage, and more widely to an illusory destination and place of rest. Niemi solicits from the audience the choice of one of four characters for him to start with, then proceeds to connect the four along a slender thread of coincidence and fate until the end, when he fashions a conclusion from another audience suggestion.

A show as hypnotically dry as the sands of the Sahara.
I found most inviting the element of the uncanny in Niemi's narration, though the thinness of the narrative, emphasized by the slow pace of the storyteller's delivery, makes the listener strain for the reward. My taste is for a storytelling mode stuffed with sensuous detail. I was starved for that here, though grateful for a few brief interludes in which Niemi played an African thumb piano. In some sense, the tale's desert setting makes a certain degree of sense deprivation natural. The performing style was thus in its element, but it was an element somewhat alien to me.

My evening ended with a further slide to disappointment, Lou Sanz's "Neverending Storage" at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre. I was prompted to take in this show by the high regard in which Sanz is held by her fellow Australian, IndyFringe executive director Pauline Moffat.

Lou Sanz: Open to interpretation across the cultural divide
Sanz's balanced approach to her sensuous and intellectual sides enables her to link her tales of failed relationships to the theme (partly metaphorical) of self-storage. She does that with  resilience and humor.  Slide projections, usually of a cartoonish sort, enhance the comic narrative, which ends with a video recording of a long-delayed visit to her expensive storage unit, almost 450 miles from where she lives now.

To me, Sanz's act depends upon a kind of louche charm that, over the course of at least 65 minutes, proved to be quite resistible. Her delivery was puzzling, with what might be called "punch lines" often muttered like afterthoughts. I got tired of saying to myself: "I might have laughed there had I been able to make out what she said right away."

Granted, I'm not well acquainted with Australian humor. Looming all too large in my mind is the old Monty Python sketch about the philosophy department at an Australian university, populated by a clutch of crass Bruces lolling around a table in the Outback. Of course, that's not Australian humor; and indeed, Python humor has a nasty way of not telling us a lot about anything outside itself. As much as the sainted British troupe used to make me laugh, I often thought its secret motto might be: "We worked hard enough to come up with one good joke for this sketch, so we've bloody well earned the right to beat it to death."

But I digress. I had assumed that Australian humor was boisterous (if not on a Pythonesque scale), a quality Sanz indeed sometimes approaches in "Neverending Storage." Yet she displayed an odd kind of reserve about putting the humor over, despite flipping the bird now and then. Her modesty may be calculating, designed to elicit sympathy — "I'm not trying to wow you," it seems to say. Done.

 So much of today's comedy has a hard-shell quality to it. Perhaps to counter that, Sanz offers tantalizing hints that real emotions are involved in what happens to her. So much the better for her completeness as a performer, though on balance it didn't connect with me. I was fascinated by the accent, though, which became almost a welcome distraction: Did you know that "show" can be pronounced — by a native speaker of English, no less — with three distinct vowel sounds after the "sh"? I hereby nominate Sanz for the festival's Triple Diphthong Award.