Fuerta Dance Company: (luna)tics

If I had a nickel for every time that some dancer’s mother seemed excited that the only reason that I came out to see a semi-pro company’s dance concert is that I happen to like concert dance then I could buy a cool, tasty soda. And a cool drink would be nice right now because the theater in which I just saw Fuerta Dance’s production, (luna)tics, was pretty warm and my drive home was warmer since, it seems, my AC is out again.

This was the first thing that I’ve ever seen in Syncronicity Theatre’s space. It’s a small space, with seating for under 150 people and a very low stage that is just big enough to make you think that you can do more on it than it can handle but not so small that you can’t put on a good show. There’s comfortable space between the front row and the stage such that I think that there probably aren’t any seats in the house from which an audience member can’t see the full floor as long as they aren’t seated behind someone who is dramatically taller than they are.

I had never heard of the company nor was I familiar with anyone involved in the production. I happened to be on Syncronicity’s website a while ago and saw this listed and put it on my calendar to check out later. I’m not sure that I’d have heard about it otherwise: if they marketed it beyond their personal network of friends, family, students, &c then I’m not entirely sure where. Still, they managed to pull in a decent audience. The mother next to whom I sat said that they averaged 60 heads for each of the previous two shows.

The show itself was decent. It had some genuine strengths and was a lot more polished than I expected it to be considering that this is a semi-pro company’s debut production. It had — at least it claimed to have — an overarching theme focusing on the moon as a symbol of the femininity. The structure was fairly clever: four pieces by three choreographers with two short films and one intermission spacing them out. This gave the company the equivalent of three intermissions to catch their breaths, making it so that they could produce a 90+ minute production without the benefit of devoting all of their time to training just for this. Even though there was some very rigorous choreography, the company mostly managed to stay strong and together through to the end, although there were a couple of dancers whose limitations were showing by the end.

The first piece was by Alyson Quigley, “ru·mi·nate.” It began somewhat contemplatively, which, to be perfectly honest, had me shrugging on the inside and preparing for a rather dull evening of exactly what one might picture if they were to be told that young choreographers, fresh out of college, put together an evening’s dance concert about the moon. It wasn’t bad but it was fairly boilerplate. And then, shortly into the piece, it stopped being so…that…and became a pretty engaging exploration of the danger and excitement of the night. There was some pretty fun horror imagery but it never really became too silly or absurd. It came across somewhat as the musings of someone who likes sitting in the dark both to be alone with their thoughts and also to let them wander into the little pockets of fear that come with darkness. It was a reasonably strong start for the concert.

Next we had the first of two films, also by Quigley, “I Ha(s)ve Eyes.” This was a charming but effective contrast of the reactions that two little girls and two 20-something women to various things, such as food or their own reflections. It was reminiscent of the short film that went viral not terribly long ago in which children and adults were asked what they’d change about their bodies if they could change anything: adults wanted to change things about which they had become neurotically self-conscious and kids wanted more practical alterations, such as the addition of a tail or wings. What stood out most about Quigley’s film was how adorable the little girls were. One of them is probably going to grow up to be either an orthopedist or a goth: she kept talking about her skeleton in such a delightful way.

Following this fun interlude, we saw “phase III,” by Ashley Swan and Peter Swan, a husband and wife team. I haven’t much to say about this but that it was decent. I didn’t pick up any particular theme or meaning, so I took it as a purely abstract piece. It never really grabbed me but it also never lost my attention. I hate to shrug it off as filler, though, because, as I said, it never lost my attention even though it was a bit longish.

Both of the two live pieces in this first half faced similar staging issues. Except for a reversible skirt that changed to a lighter color in the latter part of one of the pieces, the costumes were black and covered the full torso and most of the legs of the dancers. This produced little contrast with black curtain backdrop and similarly colored stage and made it a bit difficult to follow the dancers movements in full. The lighting didn’t help terribly much: there were a lot of heavy shadows, some of which were intentional but many were the result of trying to get effects from their sidelights that require a somewhat larger stage. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that the lighting design for the entire show was rather weak. If I’d recommend anything to the producers if this program were to be staged in the same space again, it would be to either do a dim blue wash across the stage to make the dancers show a little bit more in the shadows or use either gray or silver for the costuming. In such small spaces, there is too much reflection for the intentional shadows to be genuinely dark and the audience is sitting too close not to notice, so even if you want your dancers to be lost in the shadows they never entirely will. Instead, it just comes out looking a little sloppy.

What I thought was the strongest piece of the evening, “the moon sees me” by Meg Morrissey, followed a brief intermission. Of all of the live pieces, this one seemed to have the most clear understanding of what it meant to be and the choreography felt very on point without being too…I don’t know…contrived, maybe? This piece explored the social pressures on women to be beautiful and to “perform” in accordance with their gender roles. I’ve seen so many iterations of this theme in dance that you’d think that it would be positively exhausted, but I’m still seeing a lot of people doing good work on this. This, sadly, is probably due to the fact that it remains as relevant now as it has been during any point in any of our lives and every person encounters this phenomenon in a manner that is at the same time peculiar to themselves and reflective of what everyone else must go through.

Morrissey put her dancers through the wringer for this: it was very athletic. Between the expected primping and preening was a great deal of dramatic performance, though never resorting to pantomime. Stylistically, she seemed very informed by the work of Andrea Miller of Gallim dance, perhaps even straying a bit too close at moments to a particular segment from “I Can See Myself in Your Pupil,” though never close enough to declare the piece to be anyone’s but Morrissey’s. I particularly liked her use of mutual support pairings: it seemed to both show women helping each other but also pulling each other back into the fray, so to speak. This can come across as kind of cheesy if not done well, but Morrissey managed to make it come across as conscientious, sincere, and fitting within the piece.

The second and final film of the evening, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” was very promising but didn’t quite manage to realize its potential. I kind of got the feeling that Quigley ran out of time or money in producing it. That’s not to say that it wasn’t enjoyable: it showed two lovers whose relationship seemed to be drifting apart until, inevitably, tensions between the two came to be too much and tempers flared. There was some incredibly beautiful imagery, particularly the ending, in which the couple, in slow motion, walked and then sank together into water. Slowing down the film on the water created a really dreamy effect. That said, the cinematography left a lot to be desired. Some outdoor scenes were very shaky and, as is far too often the case in dance filming, the camera was focused too heavily on the heads and torsos of the performers. This included a number of close ups where the limbs were out of shot, losing whatever was choreographed. The close shots also broke a sense of space, so a lot of the blocking was lost. In theater and film, we generally get most of the acting from the face. In dance, it’s the whole body. What would call for a close up in theater to draw attention to the facial expressions of an actor should often result in a wide shot showing how the movement of the dancer responds to and affects the scene. This is something that ruins so much dance on film for me. I think that filming dance is a skill that was lost when Hollywood stopped making so many musicals and its something that makes me very sad.

The conclusion of the evening was a piece choreographed by both Morrissey and Quigley entitled “You’re It.” This was fun, if a bit on the short side, and it really didn’t make much of an impression on me. I think that I might have gotten more into it if they hadn’t used hand-held lights for lighting. I get what they were going for, aesthetically speaking, but I don’t think that they quite managed it. I have rarely seen a piece in which the performers lit themselves from within the piece that really worked well. In this case, as with most others, there was a lot of blinding of the audience, and the way that they carried the lights was a bit awkward. Fortunately, this gimmick was used only for two brief periods of the piece. It wasn’t a bad way to end the show, but I feel like they could have done a little better here.

A note on the music: they made heavy use of Max Richter’s work. I realize that his work is filling the role that Philip Glass once did in being very accessible and easy to use, but it’s also getting more than a little tired in dance. I have to work a little harder to take a piece seriously when it is set to Richter even though I really do like a lot of his work. There are so many great minimalists and impressionists whose music could easily be subbed for Richter’s and it makes me sad that dancers aren’t going out and looking for them.

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