I was able to catch Uprooted Dance‘s “Heartstrings & Shoestrings- Stories of Love & Woe” at Dance Exchange, this past Friday, and, this being my first UD performance, I was very much looking forward to the evening!
I like to break down my reviews extensively because I feel it’s important to separate, and dissect a performance to a point where credit can be distributed rightfully, …as well as any form of disdain! So we’ll begin with the venue itself, Dance Exchange.
I don’t have much experience with DE, but I did know that there would be a challenge in presenting the DE “stage” with a sense of wonderment and enticing visual intimacy that Heartstrings and Shoestring was peddling. Upon entering DE, you’re greeted at the front and shortly after the $20 ticket purchase, the bar is readily available with an assortment of free wine for your evening. The DE theatre itself is covered with pillows, loveseats and blankets. -A relaxing and casual atmosphere decorated with a lighting/prop design only Ben Levine of Dance Place could pull off! I spoke with him in regards to this design, and he mentioned it was an arduous process, but one which I can clearly see worth the time and effort. Dance Exchange is what I call easily accessible, but maybe not so much easily “parkable.” I arrived early to ensure I was parking in their extremely small parking lot, as I didn’t really know where else I could park. But I like it overall because DE is a cozy environment, right down to their humble twinkling sign they like to put out on the intersection on performance nights. (although I didn’t see it out for Sunday’s show) All in all, with what could be done, such was done well.
The music used for H&S was very charming. I did, however, find it a bit awkward to hear David Schulman perform live music over recorded music. It’s a hard thing to distinguish when you have dance accompanying it, but as someone who has worked in recording studio, the live violin, plucking and random percussive sounds stood very much out from the flat delivery of the prerecorded music. Mixing these two elements is much like hearing two people talk to one another, with one being there next to you, and the other on a speakerphone. It may work, but you hear the difference. I did admire the effort, and the timing was always on. The melodies were not challenging to the ear, and perhaps it was better that way. My single gripe in music choice occurred during the duet with Briana Carper and another young lady whose name escapes me. I felt the music there was not a particularly good choice, and it felt like the same song had been played twice. All in all, I would prefer Live music be the choice, or recorded music be the choice. Mixing the two is distracting to an ear which knows the difference.
The Dancing! (prologue)
Uprooted Dance is something unique, in that it is what Modern Dance needs to be doing in order to bridge the gap between the hardcore and the mainstream. If the former is Classical music, the latter is Pop. 20 years ago, this could be seen as a harsher criticism, but today, it is something which needs to be acknowledged and revisited. Today, Modern Dance is up against the instant gratification juggernaut that is the internet. It is facing the presence of 3D movies, portable social media and overall, a competition of content that it really can’t expect to compete with… not on its budget anyways. Even theatre production ranging from Wicked to War Horse have upped their ante by way of sophisticated props and lavish presentation. (I saw the recent incarnation of Les Miz, which incorporated moving projections to allow for the illusion of running, falling and fast motion) I very much refuse to use the term “selling out” but I also always say to myself, “Sometimes, if you want to sell out, you have to Sell Out.” The bottom line here is, UD has made a show that is enjoyable. You won’t be straining to figure out deeper meanings, or reflecting back on any message after it’s done. It is there to immerse you in the moment and it does that exceptionally. With that being said, we can focus more on the dance itself.
The Dancing (the meat!)
If you’d like to see some beautiful young women clad in their evening best, performing gracefully, you’ll get what you paid for. Now, there are two directions this can go. UD chooses to take a laid back, and humorous approach. I kind of wish it had taken itself more seriously, because women dressed up, high heeled out, dignified, classy, and pretending to fall over themselves and their ridiculous heels, is a joke that is funny only once. Don’t get me wrong, it was enjoyable, but it also felt like one joke extended through the entire show. The sassy charm was short lived.. or maybe I kind of hoped for a costume change. Regardless, this presentation of 6 women made you think of Sex in the City: the college years. And I liked that this was something that wasn’t going to hammer a message home, or make you think too hard. But I also felt like I was going to be seeing this throughout the rest of the show pieces. Fortunately, I was wrong. I’ll also note that the dancer/audience interaction was in full swing. I personally don’t like interactive shows. I prefer to see art, and when it breaks the fourth wall, it is the equivalent of going full nudity on stage, as in, it was a daring tactic that worked 20 years ago, but feels gimmicky today. What saved this for me was seeing that my fellow audience members were enjoying the idea, and not hesitant in the least bit to participate. It was actually not until the intermission I would realize that despite H&S being built around stories of Love and Woe, there were no men (with the exception of David and a Ken doll) to be found. I think this was one of the most interesting aspects of the show, and you could say that the participating audience WAS the male role. “Clever,” says I!
I can sum it up in a short paragraph with “humor.” It was a plethora of light-hearted ideas against light-hearted movement. There was a constant, but non-overbearing chuckle in the atmosphere, and if you can take your eyes off of Melissa Swaringen’s glowing presence for enough time to appreciate the subtle steps and phrases, you’re in for a treat.
The 6 performers in evening wear were divided up by short pieces by other dancers in between. I didn’t care for Briana Carper duo. It could have been there or not. It was too tame, too plain, and given I’ve seen Briana perform before, a waste of her talent. She should be headlining somewhere. Another piece involved a solitary dancer performing with a cloak, which was shaped in a way to give the illusion of another person, when she took it off. A representation of a lover, possibly from a foggy past of yesteryear. It was a nice idea, and what made the routine work was that she didn’t continue to hide the facts. It was gratifying to see her face the audience and defiantly reveal the trick behind the floating apparition. Had she continued to play it off, it would have cheapened the entire act. By allowing us to see her hand holding up the costume, she ensured the continuation of open communication, something so essential in relationships, in this case, the relationship between the performers and the audience. Other high points of the show were the six women literally pole dancing, the one woman dressed as a man falling over while mimicking the posture of a Ken Doll on a table, and the dropping of an ex-lovers records, which were then used as stepping stones, possibly to another, better relationship. What I didn’t find as gratifying was Mariel Proctor’s Balloon Dance. I’m a real fan of Mariel and Balloons, but I feel like this flagship piece is running its course. The first time I saw the two together was at Ilana Silverstein’s Fieldwork show. At the time, I thought it could go places, but it really hasn’t. It’s Mariel on her tip-toes and looking up, out into the ether. She has a specific spinning move she does on one foot, and that shows up in many other areas of her dancing as well. I feel like it also isn’t a showcase of her talent. It hasn’t evolved beyond adding more balloons and tying them to different parts of her body. I hope she builds on it differently, somehow, or it evolves into something else. I was much more impressed by the large pole being treated as if it were a form of Contact Juggling.
In the end, it was a show, not a performance. But it was a great show. To reiterate, this is the direction Modern Dance will have to lean toward if it is to compete in a modern world. I don’t mind that fact, and I am happy to embrace it. I loved H&S for what it was, and the audience did too.