Saturday, August 20, 2016

IndyFringe Fest, Day Two: Fresh thoughts from DK dancers, a Westside arts community, and Earlham College

Something peculiar to the aura that pop divas gather around themselves engenders optimism, even when they move into torch songs and other expressions of doubt and pain. That probably accounts for the upbeat feeling pervading the nine pieces assembled for Dance Kaleidoscope's 2016 IndyFringe Festival contribution, "Divas Workshop" on the main stage at Theatre on the Square.

The key to happiness is the disposition to be pleased, the 18th-century man of letters Samuel Johnson says somewhere. This disposition triumphed in this program by DK dancers, and the result shows that being so disposed doesn't mean that happiness is easily achieved or held onto. (Artistic director David Hochoy will use Fringe audience response plus his own programming knack to decide which of the short works will be further rehearsed for DK's February concert.)

The comic approach to Dr. Johnson's truth came through in Timothy June's "Enlightenment," with its busy, distracted street scene breaking apart and coalescing around the positivity expressed by dancer Stuart Coleman. Set to an assertive vocal by Shirley Bassey ("I Am What I Am"), the buoyant piece showed that accepting oneself as more than the sum of others' expectations is infectious and life-enhancing.

With the right nudges, people can turn aside from ruts of routine and duty they tend to settle unhappily into. The scenario sounds sentimental, but June's choreography handled it imaginatively, with a smoothly working blend of everyday movement and idiomatic dance that communicated the discovery of joy.

Other pieces struck that note as well, with the comedy  muted. A strong feminist statement — celebratory, not bitter — was offered in Missy Trulock's setting of Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen" for five women, with its advice to "float like goddesses" emphasized by sparkly, gauzy black shawls in the costuming and their eventual draping on the lead dancer, Jillian Godwin. Broadway pizazz on the theme of self-realization came with Stuart Coleman's solo for Aleksa Lukasiewicz to Barbra Streisand's "Don't Rain on My Parade." Lukasiewsicz's crisp articulation of Coleman's busy choreography (a busyness well suited to the way Streisand sings) was radiant and authoritative from first note to last.

Paige Robinson in "Fragmented Dreams"
Challenges to the disposition to be pleased were handled in a couple of pieces. Noah Trulock used Kelly Clarkson's "The Trouble With Love Is" to probe the difficulties of the dating scene, as he told us in introducing "A
Dance About Love." The piece wove on the recording's loom episodes of trust and betrayal, attraction and repulsion. The upshot, unless I'm reading too much into it, seems to be that it's all worth the effort to seek satisfying connections, though Clarkson's belting style keeps doubt alive.

Passion makes it possible, and passion gets in the way of judgment, too. In Mariel Greenlee's "Surrender," the difficulty of yielding to romantic impulses, responding to their pushes and pulls while attempting to stay in control, was memorably set to Nina Simone's dark, steady, oddly reassuring advisory in "Wild Is the Wind." The choreography was exceptional in its attention to emotion expressed by seven dancers in nicely calibrated, reflective movement.

I must pass quickly over the remaining four pieces with brief mentions, and not because I didn't like them. Zach Young uses Annie Lennox's "Missionary Man" to get the ball rolling with bounce and swagger. In "Fragmented Dreams," Marte Osiris Madera spins floating lyricism, with salutes to romantic ballet, setting Celine Dion's version of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face." Using Adele's "I Miss You," Jillian Godwin in "First Touch" rings the changes on how things get started between couples,  setting the sparks that become four-alarm fires (to paraphrase "I'm Beginning to See the Light"). And Brandon Comer's "Over the Rainbow" constitutes a majestic company salute to much-admired DK veteran Liberty Harris, centerpiece of his rhapsody on Patti LaBelle's impassioned version.

The image of a little girl among fairies told some people what they wanted to believe.
Among other Friday evening shows I saw was Earlham College's all-female "Elsie and Frances and the Fairies," an extrapolation of oddball history of the kind that Tom Horan does so well, on the Phoenix Theater's Russell Stage.

 Girls playing in grandma's attic evoke a long-ago, proto-photoshop hoax involving an encounter with fairies in the woods. Catherine Blencowe and Emma Socey played cousins Elsie and Frances, respectively, concocters of the adventure intended to cast an ectoplasmic glow over Frances' three days' solitary absence in provincial woods, which, she reports at home, were spent among fairies.

The leads were charmingly handled, and received generally shipshape support from Sage Halewolfe, Mallory War, and Cianna Rothwell as various characters from present and past time levels. Among the portrayals, bordering on caricature, was one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who after his fame as creator of the master detective Sherlock Holmes, astonishingly was taken in by the girls' "evidence" of fairyland.

The play, Friday's audience was told, is still a work in progress. The production handles the interlocking levels of fantasy and reality pretty well. Horan's whimsy was in evidence throughout. In carrying it out, there are refinements one hopes the student cast will be able to apply.

Here are a few quibbles: I hope the adult skeptics will be made a little less ridiculous, because the dramatic tension would be more engaging if the mockery these fussy ladies make of the girls' fairy stories seemed to threaten their credibility.
* A knighted Englishman would not be referred to as "Sir Doyle"; in this case, it's "Sir Arthur" unless the full name is used.
* Does even a little girl not know that the plural of "mouse" is "mice"? To hear "we were as quiet as church mouses" is slightly rattling, especially since it's also a lame variation on "as poor as church mice."
* The word "weirdo" is only about 60 years old, and doesn't fit here.

Outstanding puppetry helps lift "Silken Veils" to a rare plane.
Finally, the intense, and borderline too long, "Silken Veils" tells through puppetry, music, and well-designed projections the story of an Iranian-American woman's hysterical balking at marriage to a man she clearly loves. The imploring groom spends most of the play on the other side of a locked door declaring his love and obviously anxious about the interrupted nuptials. The show is also on the Phoenix's Russell Stage; it's a collaboration between Indy Convergence and Leila and Pantea Productions.

Darya, the bride-to-be, wrestles at length with her conflicted past, giving voice and stature to painful memories. Her parents are on opposite sides of her homeland's 1979 revolution, which takes a deadly toll not only on the family's cohesiveness but also its very existence. They are recalled in both puppet form and as dialoguing silhouettes behind a backlit white curtain. The design and the manipulation of the marionettes are outstanding.

Playwright Leila Ghazravi plays Darya to the hilt, every pained expression and searing outburst well-earned and registering unassuageable anguish. Robert Negron portrays both her intended, Ahmad, and (entering from the other side of the stage)  her lost brother Xerxes. Behind the screen are Carol Anne Raffa and Bob Stineman as Darya's parents, suffering from and with each other.

Difficulty hearing their dialogue, especially the mother's part, can be attributed not only to the partition somewhat muting the sound but also to the distancing effect of not being able to see the parents' faces (until near the end). What works theatrically to probe Darya's state of mind doesn't always succeed from a purely practical point of view.

"Silken Veils" is always enthralling to look at and unsettling to contemplate, bringing a welcome perspective to what is surely Americans' one-sided view of the birth of Iran's Islamic Republic. This show looks well beyond "America Held Hostage" to plunge us into a faraway historic cataclysm that called into question the continuity in family life that Americans can usually take for granted. "Darya Held Hostage" could be its subtitle.

[Paige Robinson photo by Chris Crawl]