Sunday, October 20, 2019

Dance Kaleidoscope 'Women Sublime' shines spotlight on work of three female choreographers

The sublime is a notion that has come down in standing somewhat, so that we can rave about a good dessert as "sublime" and no one will look puzzled — unless they tried the same dessert and didn't like it. It's one of many ways we use to intensify kudos, like the currently fashionable "incredible."

I tend to think that in the title "Women Sublime" something beyond pure bliss and supreme delight is intended, calling upon the word's once lofty meaning. True, the word continues to have overwhelming positivity about it. And so it should here, because the Dance Kaleidoscope program of a piece each by Cynthia Pratt, Mariel Greenlee, and Kiesha Lalama raises up the spirit, despite much dealing with conflict and the underside of awesomeness.

But to our ancestors, "sublime" had somewhat unsettling religious and literary connotations, as if what was being experienced as sublime was beyond wonderful, too much for us, more than a little disorienting. The ordinary is cast aside by sublimity, and that may be the best way to take in these dances that present women's perspective on questions of status, identity, vulnerability, and assertiveness.
'Between a Kiss and a Sigh': Cody Miley and Marie Kuhns

There are two world premieres on the program, which will be presented once more this afternoon on the main stage of Indiana Repertory Theatre. A guest choreographer with a long DK history is represented first: Cynthia Pratt's "Between a Kiss and a Sigh" is divided into five distinct movements, with five couples outlining some of the complexity of male-female relationships.

Initially, contrasting ways that men and women present themselves take place. The women's long-phrased movements, arms sweeping in curves so as to ride over the beat, are succeeded by men using more angular dance language, more locked into the music. The choreographer's whimsical nature soon comes to the fore, and an abundance of ways to represent attraction and repulsion between the sexes is delightfully displayed.

Fishing poles and bouquets are brought into play. Flirtation is laced with anxiety and frustration. Pratt has displayed what seems to be a characteristic sauciness in past work with DK, and in the new piece she extends that manner into a seriousness that feels like reconciliation as "Between a Kiss and a Sigh" concludes. There's a shift in Laura E. Glover's typically imaginative lighting design, in which dots of color sweep across the darkened stage and the dancers seem to resolve the fitful uncertainty, leavened with plenty of fun, that had made the piece a zestful comedy of manners.

Mariel Greenlee bows out as dancer, will continue as teacher and choreographer.
Retiring DK dancer Mariel Greenlee makes a cameo appearance in the piece. As a choreographer, she gets further acknowledgment of the high regard in which the company and its public hold her with a revival of her  2015 "State of Grace," originally presented at the Indy Fringe Festival. It's a compact extrapolation of a public love quarrel that Greenlee witnessed. The choreography is notable for how impressively it depicts aggressiveness  and mutual recrimination pushed to the edge of violence, with restraint barely available. The movement is part mimicry, but goes well beyond that to show how hostility can be transmuted into a barbed independence. The quarrel, expanded to involve six dancers, becomes a vehicle for expressing lessons in self-control and processing disturbing emotions. All told, the title's significance seems partly ironic, partly straightforward.

After intermission comes the second world premiere, Kiesha Lalama's "Aftermath."  This work, involving the
whole company, includes Greenlee's last appearance with DK. Rarely for a dance piece, to describe the poignancy of the occasion in this work's terms would be to get into spoiler territory. Let's just say the coiled energy — the quivering perpetual-motion dynamo — of Lalama's "Catapult" broke out of my 2015 and 2017 memory vaults to build my anticipation of the new work. I was not disappointed.

Kieran King's solo in "Aftermath"
The choreographer's program note sensitively explains "Aftermath"'s genesis and development in "an extensive series of real stories, from real victims, from real survivors of harassment and/or assault."  Five victims in one of the stories are cunningly individualized, with no victimization resembling any other one. This is a great way of reminding us through art that the depressing statistics of sexual and other physical and emotional abuse spring from personal stories and shape individual lives. The harassers variously cajole their ways into victims' trust (excerpts of famous pop ballads ironically underline the predatory behavior) or more blatantly direct isolating and hostile gestures at the victims. The lighting is again fully supportive of Lalama's searing message. "Aftermath" is a call to awareness and action through means that evoke both sympathy and alarm for the work's raw material, as well as admiration for its detailed artistic representation here.

The sublime is truly a way of strengthening human resources for dealing with uncanny challenges and generating wonder as a result. The concept is well represented in "Women Sublime." Moreover, the program functions beautifully as a hail-and-farewell to a sublime dancer.

[Photos by Crowe's Eye Photography]

1 comment:

  1. Thank you,Jay, for putting into words what I would be at a loss to express but certainly felt in watching this tremendous culmination of a career but just as importantly the artistic representation of the sublimity of women as they struggle against oppression and repression of their true human power. Brava.