I can safely say it was a secret joy to see Nancy Havlik’s Dance Performance Group this past December 8th. Billed as a show featuring “a cast ranging in age from 18 months to 92 years of age” it was a subdued, respectful, and wonderfully musical experience.
Walking up the stairs of the mansion at Josephine Butler Parks Center, one was greeted by abstract sounds of a Double Bass, Violin, Piano, Woodwinds and percussive set, spread out in different rooms. The acoustics of the space added to the haunting atmosphere, with the dancers cascading down the red carpet stairs in ties and dark dresses. The music itself was sparse and unpredictable, but live, which is always preferable to prerecorded. As The Simpsons’ so effectively quipped, it was a case where one would equally benefit from “listening to the notes that the musicians weren’t playing.” People were crowded around for this pre-show of sorts, and it while it was interesting to watch, it did reach beyond the stairs, in using the space of the mansion. From this beginning, the audience was guided to a small room of the mansion for the main performance. in a 3/4ths round. Again, as the first pieces melted into each other, the music really shined. While I can appreciate an older dance company focusing on subtle movement, sometimes playful, sometimes cautions and longing, it does appear strange to see the violinist (or perhaps, fiddler) join in on the show, and out dance the dancers while also accompanying the other instruments with quick bow strokes and steady plucking. But again, the focus was on subtlety, in the case of the older dancers. There was a degree of younger dancers present, and they were a complete contrast to their elders, stomping upon the floors of the mansions, moving intensively and challenging the audience with frozen stares.
The movements from all of the dancers was largely improvisational, which made the reactions brought about between them all the more genuine. The props, ranging from typewriters, to clipboards, to post-its, and artificial candles, always seem to get in the way. It was a bit distracting at times, how cluttered the space would get with these props, and you couldn’t help but notice the dancers making conscious efforts throughout the evening to avoid tripping over them. I think most people would resonate toward “Tracking Tornados” (as it was spelled in the program) a piece mimicking a busy office space. While many could parallel this to a jab at the drudgery of a 9-5, I felt it was more of a charming farewell to a time gone away. A time when typewriters were king, paper was predominant, and offices were filled with your best friends, and not just associates. The dancers traveled the space in repetition, but also openly embraced, an act largely frowned upon in today’s workforce. The gamut of age was not present in this piece, and others of similar pace, as it was dominated by the younger dancers.
All in all, the short evening was one that was charming, and it was easy to see the joy in the faces of the elderly dancers at being granted an attentive audience. The music was easily the glue that held the performance together, and save for the opening stair set, the acoustics of the space were all that made it site-specific. I would gladly see another performance from Dance Performance Group. it will be interesting to see what, and where they perform next.