It’s HAPPY HOUR: ADF 2017 is Open

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Anna Bass, left, and Monica Bill Barnes in HAPPY HOUR. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

I don’t know much about office parties or happy hours, and what I have known is pretty dreary. Not so with the crazy happy hour party thrown by Monica Bill Barnes & Company at the Durham Arts Council’s PSI Theater as the first Durham performances of the American Dance Festival 2017 season. Go on, have a good time!

Join the throng, join the confusion, buy a raffle ticket, have a beer, have wine, have pretzels, popcorn and vitamin C gummies! And watch these clever gals portray a couple young guys in suits, perfect right down to the beery bro reconciliation after one cuts out the other from a hook-up opportunity. If you choose, you can work up some kind of gender politics statement and lay it over this prolonged vaudevillian skit, buy why bother?  But if nothing else, you’ll wish that every man wore his trousers as well as these women wear theirs.

Barnes and Co. are serious, but never heavy. They may portray sadness, but angst really is not their thing. So refreshing! Both Bass and Barnes are almost uncanny in their abilities with subtle gesture and expression: their faces dance almost as much as the rest of their bodies. They are funny in their impersonations–but not mocking. Their humor does not have a cruel edge. Their movement draws on any and all styles–it feels familiar, but not derivative, and it is very finely tuned and precise. If you are having doubts about this life being worthwhile, watching them frolic will almost certainly restore your own joie de vivre.

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Monica Bill Barnes, standing, with Anna Bass in HAPPY HOUR. Photo: Grant Halverson.

 

The company’s tagline is “bringing dance where is doesn’t belong.” ADF actually started this season with the company leading choreographed dance work-outs at the NC Museum of Art. At Happy Hour, however, its your laugh muscles that get the work-out.

There were supposed to be brews after-show with the dancers, but on Tuesday night, they did not appear at Bull McCabe’s for such a long time that the moment for that fun had really passed, so I don’t know that you can count on that aspect of the advertised events. But you can still enjoy the $3 beer special as you mentally re-play the cascade of delights, and come to realize just how much on-stage work goes into giving an audience a care-free hour.

Repeats June 7, 8 and 9 at 6:30 pm.

 

RAD’s boneGlow at Living Arts Collective

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RAD dancers Lucas Melfi, Nicole Lawson, Rachel Mehaffey and Allie Pfeffer in boneGlow, choreographed by Renay Aumiller in conjunction with them. Photo: Jen Guy Metcalf.

Warning: when artist you admire makes an admirable experiment that does not entirely succeed, the reviewing process may be painful to all involved.

The talented choreographer Renay Aumiller, inspired by her pregnancy and the birth of twin boys, has been thinking about change. Good change, bad change, and how difficult change can be, even if you’ve courted it. And if you’ve resisted a certain change, how can you alter your thinking to fit new conditions not of your choosing? As a dancer, Aumiller came at the problem kinetically, asking herself: If I change how I move, and how I make dances, will it change how I think?

Please click here to read my full review on Classical Voice of North Carolina.

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A dynamic moment from RAD’s boneGlow in rehearsal. Photo: Jen Guy Metcalf.

 

Orbiting in the Outer Reaches

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Carley McCready in the cosmic static. Rehearsal photo courtesy of Rabble and Twine.

 

I was thrilled to received a press release from DIDA, Durham Independent Dance Artists, giving information on a new work NOT about self-identity, group identity or activism–but about something really big, way too big: The Mesoplanets orbiting far, far away. This one-night-only event occurred May 6, at the Living Arts Collective, and while it did not fulfill its potential, The Mesoplanets was a strong and consistently engaging debut into the arena of full-length staged works by Rabble & Twine.

Rabble and Twine co-founders, Luke Selden and Anna Seagrave, recently of Providence, RI, met in graduate school at Mills College (Oakland, CA), where they began merging their arts. Selden makes music and video; Seagrave makes dances. For this journey into the fascinations of space, in particular of those little planets that get no respect, Selden and Seagrave brought together another half-dozen dancers and four “noise makers,” including Allen Anderson with whom Selden had studied music at UNC as an undergrad, and Ellis Anderson of No One Mind–together their synth-duo is called sfm. There was also the one-named violinist Morgan, in a mask, and recorded speech by Helene Rosenbluth.

There was video background with wry voice-overs by Selden; one short side of the stage was banked by sound gear and musicians and a tiny “wing” for the dancers. The audience occupied the other two sides of the rectangle, and those on the long side, facing the video, would have had a much more complete experience of the work than I did from the short side, from which one couldn’t really watch the video while watching the dancers, choreographed by Anna Seagrave. The work’s three acts–The Known, The New World, and The Void–comprised nine dances, and one purely musical segment. The Mesoplanets is a very ambitious work, serious and sweetly humorous, and while it could use a little tightening, overall it was captivating. There was remarkably little dross and some standout moments among the several strong movement sections, and the music was intriguing, even mesmerizing, throughout–though especially compelling in Act II. Although I couldn’t give the video the attention it deserved, I could tell that its rhythms and rather magisterial pacing were key to the overall work’s coherence and sense of long journeying into the far unknown.

As a group, Seagrave’s dances investigated the characteristics of various mesoplanets, and of the people who dream of them. There was a great deal of emphasis on orbits and orbiting, which was strikingly effective in a kind of cat’s cradle dance for the ensemble and two long ropes. This piece went well beyond clever, into elegance and beauty, as it caught and spun the dancers in intersecting elliptical orbits–like the planets, always in motion but never free to leave their delineated paths. Anna Seagrave, Carley McCready and Aijia Nicole Bryant stood out among the dancers for their verve and elasticity. It was particularly nice to see McCready and Seagrave together, for the contrasts. McCready is small, lithe and sports a brown bob; Seagrave is taller, blonde and due to give birth in July. It was fascinating to see how differently the same movement sequences express from the varying bodily states.

The varying abilities of the dancers, however, were not always a benefit, and dragged down some of the larger dances, and there was a real problem with the recorded voice-overs. The sounded like they’d been recorded on a phone, by people without voice training; the volume was inadequate throughout, and sometimes the voice was covered completely by the music. If the spoken content is meant to be an equal partner with the music, visuals and dance, it needs some technical assistance.

According to Seagrave, Saturday’s performance was her last before her baby is due. But look for Seagrave and Selden/Rabble & Twine, perhaps in DIDA’s next season. They are welcome additions to Durham’s dance scene, and it will be very interesting to see what changes in Seagrave’s work with motherhood. In the meantime, we get to find that out about Renay Aumiller, now returned from her maternity leave (twins!). She will be presenting her new work, boneglow, at the Living Arts Collective June 2-4 as the DIDA season continues. Three shows only in that small space, don’t wait. Tickets on her website.

 

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Denver Carlstrom and Aijia Nicole Bryant during rehearsal for the glow-stick storm segment. Rehearsal photo courtesy of Rabble and Twine.

 

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