Top Damsel, Under Damsel

Veteran dancers unveil their successes in progress

A blend of technical chops and visceral emptiness characterized “Alpha Damsel,” a shared evening of choreography by Colleen Thomas and Adrienne Fang.

Confusion and aggression played in equal terms at Danspace Project December 9-11 when choreographers Colleen Thomas and Adrienne Fang got a chance to show their off-kilter collaborations in “Alpha Damsel.” Like the title, the evening was a juxtaposition of ideas and themes, which although not fitted together well, at least seemed like a cool idea. The first piece of the evening, “Damsel” exemplified the contradiction.

The solo, choreographed by Thomas, was a gentle but jarring exploration of the confines of what appeared to be a church window—not surprising considering Danspace Project is in fact housed in St. Mark’s Church. It is danced with considerable grace and alarming precision by Keith Johnson; however as is often the case throughout the evening, music is allowed to steal the show. A warbling version of “Que Sera, Sera,” composed by Mio Morales, establishes with its grainy quality and its dissonant piano accompaniment a feeling of creeping unease.

The audience is enraptured by the performance of Johnson, and the simple, but effective lighting of Carol Mullins; but the piece ends on a jarring note with the collapse of the dancer and an unnerving riff. Because the audience is never allowed to ease in to the performance, we are left technically impressed but viscerally empty.

And indeed, this blend of technical chops and visceral emptiness characterized the evening, if not for lack of trying. Other pieces that attempted weightiness such as Fang’s sapphically-themed duet “Roses” and her solo “A Good Day To Be You” also took movement that was interesting, but managed to achieve an effect that was not so much hollow as a bit off tone.

Thomas and Fang seem to ascribe a weighty sense of the artiness of their pieces burdening them with expectations so nebulous that they were nearly impossible to fulfill. On the contrary, the evening succeeded spectacularly when the two, Fang in particular, jettisoned their respective aegis of cool for a simple romp.

“Tricolored Couplets” suited the part of a romp well and also didn’t take itself too seriously, featuring three young dancers in different shades of red and green frolicking about amorously to the tune of George Baker’s Tarantino-iconic “Little Green Bag.”

The song was poppy, the dancers were smiling, and what’s more, the smiles didn’t seem to be mere performance. No, in fact it appeared that the smiles on their faces were derived from the pleasure they were receiving from the dance, or perhaps the joy the audience obviously exuded in watching them fall in and out of love on stage.

The final piece, Thomas’ “Taken” was a long and elaborate affair, replete with sufficient drama and gravitas for the deadening pace of its dancers. Thankfully however, the piece was easily stolen, perhaps intentionally so, by a sort of punk-angelic cellist lit in the rafters, Chris Lancaster. With his Mohawk, his toga-esque robe, and his frenetic transformation of his cello from drum to violin to guitar and back, he always seemed far less composed than his music. The dancers in “Taken” however, kept their cool and lost our interest.

“Alpha Damsel” should not be seen as a failure, however, as much as it should be seen as a success in progress. Thomas and Fang have both the movement and the conceit of their pieces down pat; it’s the tone they have to work on. At the end of “Tricolored Couplets,” the message to the audience was very clear—lighten up. These two choreographers would do well to take a dash of their own medicine.

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