Friday, June 25, 2021

Dance Kaleidoscope members create works of thanks for what endures post-pandemic

The geometry of living too close: Sarah Taylor's "feast."

 In "Acts of Gratitude," seven members of Dance Kaleidoscope take turns introducing new dances created around their grateful feelings. It will remain online through June 30.

The challenges of the probably waning pandemic, including restraints on working together for over a year, have to be put in the context of rehearsing in the company's new home and readying programs for a return to in-person performances. Thus, joy and pain are inevitable companions in the process, as they have been for most people in our collective sojourn through maximum uncertainty.

The show illuminates a wide swath of personal responses, each set upon a chosen number of colleagues. Not surprisingly, the responses are heavy in terms of seriousness. The choreographers and their peer group have been particularly challenged, because young people's years of greatest energy and productivity have had a time-out imposed on them. This is not an encouraging time for blithe spirits.

The dances thus struggle with opposed notions of freedom and limitation, isolation and community, trying to achieve equilibrium. Naturally, some of the struggles predate the pandemic. As introductory comments make clear, the choreographers are often coming to terms with what has shaped how they are. In order for gratitude to be kept in focus, resources carried from the past must be examined, sometimes celebrated, along with prospects for future fulfillment. 

As fledgling choreographers, there is immersion in techniques they are familiar with through practice and observation, all put in service to emotional expression. Many of the gestures are lyrical and imploring: arcing arms, lots of bending and quasi-crawling, earnest maneuvers of attraction and repulsion, interwoven patterns as well as wary stances across the distances afforded by DK's home stage at Indiana Repertory Theatre.

 The look of each show is substantially enhanced through the glow and design acumen of Laura E. Glover's lighting. We see that in the way the circle five dancers form at the start of Natalie Clevenger's "sakebu" (a Japanese word meaning "call" or "shout," lower-cased by Clevenger's preference) expands into circular floor patterns that help anchor an increasing variety of movement.

After displaying a verbal eloquence that matched her choreography, Paige Robinson shows in "Beneath the Embers" how the free-floating tolerance of childhood relationships can give way to setting apart those whose identity is made to seem alien because of body-image issues. The isolated figure among the five in this piece eventually benefits from the coalescence of her early companions around her in a salute to her freedom. 

In a more explicit celebration of individualism, Kieran King's "Be Deviant" gives his three dancers personal  dialects in a common language of self-definition. The onstage collapse before the blackout has a fine ambivalence to it. On the other hand, Manuel Valdes' full-company "Reflections of the Wounded" passes through agonized stages (peaking in Kieran King's solo) to emerge in a cleansing ritual to music explicitly suggesting born-again baptism. It's a notable manifestation of joy, even as it retains the seriousness of all seven pieces. 

Evidence of wit would have been more welcome, as it occupies much of the aesthetic terrain of dance, and we got it in Sarah Taylor's "feast." That doesn't mean that levity bubbled up in this enthralling work, though. The poet W.H. Auden memorably reminds us that wit requires a combination of imagination, moral courage, and unhappiness. Humor may live close by, but wit is the watchful landlord of a large building in which humor is an unruly tenant. 

What I loved about "feast." was its witty take on family relationships, life among intimates at close quarters as the pandemic mandated. Starting and ending with five dancers seated around a table, making robotic angular movements of head and torso, this was a witty piece. How are these people coping? Not well. They may be passing food in an imitation of community, but they are self-focused; communication is nervously caged and looking for outlets. 

The piece quickly expands into giving twitchy, individual life to each of these automatons. One by one, they take solo turns on top of the table after the dining tableau breaks up and a wealth of faux-awkward interactions ensues. The tension is richly varied. I never felt there was any transitional padding, and I actually became interested in all five dancers as characters, even though this is not a story ballet. The music had the insistence and repetitive impact of minimalism. 

From its one-word lower-case title and definitive appended period on, "feast." is a bright showcase of serious wit. It has wit's genius of looking at the same situation in complementary, if contradictory, ways. At length, it is also grimly funny. So, yes, it too can be counted as an act of gratitude. The whole program, in addition to artistic director David Hochoy's confidence in his dancer-choreographers, deserves our gratitude in return.

[Photo by Freddie Kelvin]

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