Taking advantage of my decision to take a four day weekend, I made my way to 7 Stages this evening to see Room to Move Dance with the Penderecki String Quartet perform the Space Between Us. The program was made up of three dance pieces, two with live accompaniment, and also a dance-less performance by the quartet. All dance pieces were choreographed by artistic director Amy Gately except for two of the six movements of the final piece.
This is the second time that I’ve seen the company. The other time was a program entitled Southern Grace in 2014 and my general impression at the time was that it had some decent choreography but the skill levels of the dancers were so disparate as to make it difficult to watch. Also, there was some film projected over them that was a bit distracting. This time was a little better. I think that the choreography was a little more varied and interesting. There weren’t any distracting gimmicks, unless you consider having the musical accompaniment on stage as such. All five of the dancers were reasonably good, though they weren’t particularly good at dancing together. It was pretty common in the first piece to see them craning their necks to look at the other dancers for cues or to get back into step. Throughout the other two pieces, they never really gelled. Generally, when this happens, I will pick a dancer who I feel is a decent dancer and who has the correct rhythm and blocking down and just focus on them. This time, though, that person would have been Samantha Rafferty (who may have been the same person I chose for a similar purpose in 2014). She moves like she’s been studying ballet since she was a wee toddle-beast, but she was so reserved that it wasn’t very pleasant. She kind of looked like she was teaching a class more so than performing. So, instead, I found my eyes bouncing around, unable to ignore the fact that the movements weren’t together. I often couldn’t tell if dancers were supposed to be moving in sync or if they were supposed to be doing something sequentially. Sometimes I couldn’t tell if the blocking was supposed to be slightly askew or if someone was being sloppy.
The first piece, entitled Homeward, was performed with the quartet performing Bryce Dessner’s Aheym, an alternatively urgent and brooding piece that certainly can hold one’s attention but never really seems to go anywhere. It made for decent dance music, though I’d have to give it another listen to see if I’d be keen on ever hearing it in concert. The choreography wasn’t terribly thrilling for this: the dancers basically just reacted to shifts in the music, with the quartet in the middle of the stage and the blocking taking place all around them. It was fairly boilerplate and probably what you’d expect when you hear that a dance company is performing on stage with a string quartet. Not bad but not memorable.
<RANT>If I didn’t really enjoy or absorb this first piece then it may have had more to do with the photographer sitting next to me arrhythmically taking an absurd number of photos with a very loud shutter. I ended up going to the back of the theater after the first piece because of it, though it could still be heard up there. I think that Gately may have asked her to cool it during the intermission but that was too little too late because, to be frank, it was as insulting as it was distracting. What is it with performance companies in this town thinking that it is ok to have photographers get in the way of audience members’ ability to enjoy a piece? It’s rude and it’s unprofessional. If you need promotional photos, bring the photographer to a dress rehearsal. If you can’t have a dress rehearsal or a real tech run on location, put on your costumes and pose for a few promotional shots. Between this and the fact that almost no local performance companies seem willing to respect their audience members’ time enough to start anywhere resembling on schedule, I have to say that it has become pretty hard for me to respect the local scene. If you want to perform for an audience that consists of more than just your social and professional associates who feel obligated to be there then start behaving like professionals. If not, then please stop charging me for my tickets. There are groups for whose work I won’t bother to make time anymore because I honestly just don’t think that they care about their audience and they don’t put on a good enough show for me to put up with such insults.</RANT>
After the first piece, the quartet performed the first and third movements of Erwin Schulhoff’s String Quartent no 1. The first, presto con fuoco, is full of bouncy excitement. The third, allegro giocoso all slovacca, was a bit too folksy for me; too fiddle-y. I might have enjoyed it more in the context of the full piece but, for some reason, they only played those two movements. Perhaps they couldn’t fit it in, though the whole of the work was done by 9:30p and there was a lot of time set aside for a talkback. If that was the case then perhaps they could have just started on time and had the extra 10 minutes that it would take to play the piece in its entirety. Perhaps, though, Gately doesn’t think that her audiences can handle 15 whole minutes of classical music. Whatever the reason for the abbreviation, I think that the quartet played it well.
The second dance piece was The Space Between Us, from which the evening’s program took its name. The music was canned, by Robert Een, and not particularly strong. The choreography, however, was pretty good, being fairly interesting and blending a variety of movement styles; including some influence from Indian classical dance. The highlight was Sheryl Houston’s solo, entitled Grasp, largely because the ensemble work was very sloppy, making any solo look much tighter and coherent. This piece was inspired by a book with which I’m completely unfamiliar. I suspect that if I had read it then I’d have seen some kind of program to the work, but I was honestly fine taking it as purely abstract. If it had been performed a little better then I’d have enjoyed it a lot.
The same was true of the final piece, Visitation, though they were a little more together. There was some good choreography in it and the music was pretty good. Again, and for the same reason, my favorite part was a solo — this time performed by Meagan Novoa and choreographed by Gaelyn Marie. The Penderecki Quartet played selections from Goeon Freudmann, Anthony Genge, and John Adams. Again, this was based on a book that I had not read and, again, I could not suss out a coherent program, but I did mostly enjoy it.
Overall, I think that if I’d not gotten off to such a poor start with the photographer then I’d have enjoyed the show quite a bit. As it stands, the highlight of my evening was getting to pick mulberries on my walk home. Gately does have a decent mind for choreography but, based on what I’ve seen in this and the piece in 2014, she needs to learn to help her dancers work together more. Some shifts in blocking so that they can see each other better might help some. Encouraging them to understand where their movements meet the music might help even better. Perhaps what is really needed is more quality rehearsal time or even some better casting. Ultimately, this is going to continue to be one of those companies that I’ll only see if they happen to be doing something when I happen to have some free time and, honestly, I’m kind of regretting that I got tickets to this rather than going to hear the ASO pre-concert chamber concert.