Friday, August 20, 2010

Another Parade in Town


I was ready to get up and dance before the curtain went up on Kate Weare’s newest work, Bright Land, at the Joyce Theater last week. That’s because The Crooked Jades, called “the finest string band in America” (The Boston Herald) were starting up “Gonna Write Me a Letter,” and I was about to hop up and hop to it when the curtain went up instead, and there they were, the rarest of beings, live musicians on a modern dance stage.

Two couples danced, giving us a combination of hip hop moves, partner interplay, and echoes of each other, sudden moves that could become violent, and the occasional, and getting-to-be-predictable collapsing.

Clothes seemed to be a metaphor for intimacy; a little literal and in other circumstances I would groan, but it worked because the dancers were careful and deliberate about the gesture. The women removed outer dresses and tossed them aside. Men were more subtle when they removed vests and shirts; the women generally took these and carried them away.

The musicians were excellent, and the relationship with the dances was blessedly subtle, which was a relief, that is when there was a relationship. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be any at all, for the refreshed bluegrass and traditional folk music was so wonderful that it dominated the performance. During “Goin’ to California,” however, the relationship grew more secure: the four dancers walked across the stage as exhaustion came on (I’m getting exhausted by exhaustion on the dance floor), the words “I am so tired, sing me to sleep” became the theme, exhaustion turned to love, transcendence, and hope, which was a nice final note, but too much had gone before, and the hope was on the muddy side. I didn’t believe it. I wished I did.

But -- most of the hope was in the music, which was death-defying marvelous.

During intermission, I turned to my friend Lynne and said, “Every new piece I’ve seen since the spring has been dark, dark, dark, and full of angst and fatigue. I wish they’d stop! I almost didn’t want to stay for another piece of dark angst, confusion, and fatigue.

Well, I wish I’d wished for a million dollars. But failing that, I got to see Monica Bill Barnes’ 2009 piece, Another Parade, a work that is bright, happy, fresh, playful, and completely original.

A woman pounced onto the bright stage to the music of JS Bach. Her feet were bare, the rest of her was sensibly garbed in a gray knee length pleated skirt and black turtleneck. She tried out steps, liked them if they worked, pouted and gestured vehemently to us when they didn’t. We were amused and curious. After reacting to the music, every so often, she referred to us with a “How’m I doing” expression or one of delighted triumph.

Then there were four of them, all wearing the same skirt and sweater garb in muted colors. Some people thought they were librarians. I thought of them as Catholic schoolgirls letting loose (and now you know all about me).

The performers were bright, wild, goofy. They shook their hips as if that was a great new discovery. Every so often, they pulled down their sweaters to show off shoulders or lifted their sweaters to show off their abs. And every so often, they opened their mouths as if to scream. I realize this all sounds odd, but you must believe me when I say that it all seemed weirdly coherent because the performers were so clear and coherent about what they were doing. They and we took a goofy pleasure at what was happening on stage, and the performers regularly checked in with us. Then, oh, why not, one of the dancers ran off stage into the audience and around the balcony and sat and watched the other three perform before re-joining them. As I watched, her watching the act took on poignancy. The idea brought the act of watching into focus. I know, it’s been done before, but this felt new.

The music switched from JS Bach to James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Bacharach/David, Joe South, Edward Holland, and others, and those girls/librarians kept us fascinated by their personalities, humor, and whatever were they going to do next. We were always interested in what that would be.

Finally, they ran into the audience and brought four of us back on stage (one man) and got them to shake their hips and dance. After a little nudging and our encouragement, they got into it. The newcomers were then directed to throw up their arms in victory, brightly colored confetti (some of which had been strewn on the floor throughout) falling down on them all. We cheered – hurray! For what? I don’t know! The audience members returned to the audience, and the four girls/librarians/kids at heart sauntered off. I think we even waved, like the guests at the Trapp Family Ball. Goodbye!

So no worries. Another Parade was the freshest looking piece in the Joyce two-nighter (and the oldest). I haven’t the faintest idea what it meant and I don’t care. We had a great time, and I certainly didn’t feel exhausted at the end! I don’t know if it was because it was fresh, witty, and well performed, or that it seemed in its way to celebrate the idiosyncrasies of individuality, the quirkiness and the shock of being human, which is really quite funny and quite poignant, both. And that is that.

Kate Weare Company. Artistic Director: Kate Weare. Bright Land. Choreography: Kate Weare; Costume design: Sarah Cubbage; Lighting design: Brian Jones; Dancers: Adrian Clark, Douglas Gillespie, Leslie Kraus, and Marlena Penney Oden. Musicians: Jeff Kazor, Lisa Berman, collin Gallahue, Charlie Rose, and Rose Sinclair.

Monica Bill Barnes and Company. Artistic Director: Monica Bill Barnes. Another Parade. Choroegrapher: Monica Bill Barnes; Costume and set design: Kelly Hanson; Lighting designer: Jane cox; Performers: Anna Bass, Monica Bill Barnes, Charlotte Bydwell, and Celia Rowlson-Hall.

Writer/singer Mary Sheeran’s novel, Who Have the Power, an exploration of cultural conflict, feminism, and Native American history set on the American frontier, was published in 2006 ( Her next novel, Quest of the Sleeping Princess, which unfolds during a gala performance of the New York City Ballet, will be published later this year. She has sung through several operas, cabarets, and song recitals in New York, including several performances of Songs From the Balanchine Repertory.

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