Monday, April 11, 2016

"Now You See Us" from Butler Ballet: Dance from three choreographers that immerses itself in and out of time

Movement expresses everything we do and much of what we say and think. When formalized and filtered with skill for dance purposes, the result is often illuminating.

The pushes and pulls of identity in "Anamnesis"
Contemporary dance works focusing on journeys of identity and mood shed such a light in a Butler ArtsFest program presented Sunday afternoon by Butler Ballet in the Schrott Center for the Arts. As is true with concerts in the new hall, dance seems right at home there as well.

Student Savannah Dunn, who gets a BFA degree from Butler this year, was responsible for the first piece, "Women," which creatively uses dialogue from four Hollywood movies to shape the choreography. As dramatized in the movies, the image of women —  their desires and frustrations, the worlds they order and the worlds where they are ordered — is the subject. Six dancers (four women, two men) carried out Dunn's vision memorably.

The artificiality of traditional Hollywood comes through in the opening poses and frequently provides the vocabulary throughout the piece. The choreographer's sensitivity to the rhythms of movie dialogue, with its pregnant pauses and modulated rants and reflections, was acute.

She successfully blended the emotional impact of the chosen words (from Al Pacino, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe, and Katharine Hepburn) with those rhythms. This had the impact of quite mature commentary on both the stereotypes of women and resistance to those stereotypes, cast in suitable dance terms and well executed by the sextet.

Respite from the tensions of the first piece and the complex forces in the finale, Leslie Telford's "Anamnesis," was provided by David Ingram's "Kapnos," which received its premiere Sunday. Using the Greek word for "smoke" as its title, the dancing is all smoothness and insinuation. It was effectively performed by nine women on a stage that gloried in Laura E. Glover's lighting design. Wes Montgomery club recordings of "What's New" and "Misty," with stage "smoke" adding to the atmosphere of relaxed evenings on the Avenue, provided the musical setting.

Ingram opens the work in silence, with a gradual series of shifts into motion by the grouped, facing-forward dancers before the music begins. As the program note says, this reinforces the idea of "a new world of dance where time is no longer relevant." Supported by the Indiana Arts Commission, "Kapnos" was admirably independent of "jazzy" ideas, with everything the dancers did seeming to respond to the music as if in a parallel world of curving introspection. That quality is probably more a feature of low-key nightlife (in which Montgomery made his reputation here) than the cliche image of boisterous good times might suggest.

In "Anamnesis," an ensemble of nearly two dozen embodies an ambitious realization of the self-scrutiny that people form out of their experiences, memories, and wishes. One dancer (Candace Gordon) portrayed what seemed to be the elemental self, with the rest, similarly costumed, trying to hem in and otherwise control her movements with fragmented energy. The movement was pushed to the brink of incoherence. It always kept adjusting its focus, but the focus was maintained.

The sound element is made up of a rapidly recited poem and a pulsating electronic track, which accompanies an orderly yet unpredictable sequence of ensemble movements that take in the whole stage. There is hardly a moment of stasis. The company sweeps from side to side. It poses obstacles to the solo dancer's attempts to find her own way. Yet it also sometimes seems to support and assist her struggle for integrity. As seen in this performance, "Anamnesis" was an emotionally striking dance essay on the problems of identity and wholeness each of us must resolve.