Off the Edge

Feeling exhausted and beat down by a day that seemed determined to drive me off the edge, I attended the first evening of Off the Edge dance festival at the Rialto. Curated by Ilter Abrahimof, the executive director of a talent management agency that specializes in touring dance productions, this evening’s program featured works from five very different artists. The program for tomorrow’s show, during which I’ll be attending an ASO concert, will feature completely different works, though some of the same performance companies.

The show began with a brief, comedic, solo piece called Ballet 101 choreographed by Eric Gauthier and performed by Rosario Guerra, a member of Gautheir Dance//Dance Company Theaterhause Stuttgart. It went through a demonstration of the “101 positions” that are used in classical ballet and then put them all together for a performance. It was fun and served as a decent warm-up for the show.

Two other members of Gautheir Dance came on stage next to perform Floating Flowers by Po-Cheng Tsai. The program notes state that the choreographer was inspired by the flower boats used in the Chinese Ghost Festival. It began with a woman, seemingly kneeling, making smooth, beautiful movements to the side of the stage. After a bit of this, she “stands up” to a great height, a set of two skirts making it appear that she has a very long abdomen and the legs and pelvis of a man. It was clever and very smoothly done. After a bit of dancing like this, they separated and became two dancers.

The style of dance was heavily influenced by E. Asian folk dance and was very beautiful although, at times, it seemed to be purposefully silly. At least, that’s how it seemed: it was hart to tell if parts of it were tongue in cheek or if said parts just weren’t that good. It came across as though the choreographer didn’t feel comfortable taking his own work seriously and creating something that was just beautiful. A lot was lost to this: the extra long human could do some pretty remarkable movement, which could have been further explored, for instance. This is something that I really don’t like to see in art and particularly in dance. It’s as though some people just aren’t comfortable taking their art seriously. Sometimes it seems that the people who respect dance the least are dancers and choreographers, many of whom seem to go out of their way to take everything involving dance technique out of their works, making it less like choreography and more like they’re just blocking out a charade. Or, if they do employ real dance technique, they mock it, like in the above mentioned Ballet 101 or Alexander Ekman’s Cacti. A lot of dance companies and dancers have gone so far as to refuse to admit that they are, in fact, dance companies and dancers, preferring to call themselves anything but. All I can say is that if you’re not willing to take your art seriously, don’t be surprised if nobody else will either. But I digress: the piece was good but could have been great.

The next piece was The Man In Black choreographed by James Kudelka and performed by Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. I was disappointed to see this on the program mostly because I had already seen Atlanta Ballet do it. It’s not a bad piece, though it is a bit…light? I don’t know. The choreographer, if I recall correctly, had been commissioned to set a piece to the music of Johnny Cash for some reason or another and, not being a big fan, used a few of his covers of other people’s music, put some people in cowboy boots and plaid shirts, with a woman in a skirt and men in jeans, and then had them do some reasonably fun but kind of obvious dance moves influenced by Country and Western social dance. I think that Atlanta Ballet did it better and, as I recall, I liked how the small ensemble seemed to be swallowed by the large, empty stage of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. It added something to it: maybe a sense of absurdity. This company was so-so.

After an intermission, Kyle Abraham and his company, Abraham.In.Motion, performed Absent Matter, a piece that focused on the problems of violence and police brutality in urban communities. The piece was mostly expressive, rarely explicitly betraying narrative structure in any particular part. Set to a rather harsh-trip remix of a variety of hip hop works both new and old, the piece made use of video footage of Ferguson, MO projected behind the dancers. I generally don’t like the use of video in dance — it breaks up lines and draws eyes away from bodies — but the videos weren’t constantly playing and scenes were generally slowed down enough and presented in a washed-out black and white that they didn’t interfere too much. Overall it was a strong piece, though at times, particularly during a drawn out, very emotional solo, it seemed a bit too much like a music video.

The program concluded with Madboots Dance performing a duet called Beau, choreographed and performed by two men who might be the entirety of the company. The piece seemed to run through every emotional state that two people could go through together. It was abstract and kind of cool, though it kind of went a bit further than it needed to. I recall thinking, when the strobe lights came on sometime after a scene where they were dancing to a showtune with lip-spreaders forcing them to smile but before they shot themselves with rubber guns, causing spurts of glitter to fly from their heads, that they kind of threw the kitchen sink into this piece. I’d write more about it but, really, it’s not worth it and I’m way too tired.

Overall, I think that the program wasn’t very strong. I might think better of it if I were feeling better or if they’d ended with Abraham’s piece, put The Man in Black before it, and ended the first half with Beau. However, this was one of those evenings where I understand why I generally have to go to dance concerts alone. I really don’t think that someone who thinks that they might be interested in concert dance but hasn’t seen much would be inspired to keep going to shows after seeing this program. The first half didn’t take itself seriously and they ended with an abstract mess that requires a bit of effort to follow or appreciate.

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