D.C. DanceWatcher

Airborne

Posted in Contemporary dance, Dance, Modern dance by lisatraiger on September 27, 2010

Arachne Aerial Arts in “Mixed Use Space”
Dance Place
Washington, D.C.
September 26, 2010
By Lisa Traiger
© 2010 by Lisa Traiger

AAA-Adamantine_(hi-res)_by_Steve_Canning_Photography[2] Stripped of its theatrical accoutrements – curtains, sidelights, window coverings, dance flooring -– Dance Place reverted to its former state as a welding warehouse September 25 and 26, for its season opener, a striking evening of works by Arachne Aerial Arts. All that was missing in the stripped down space? A pickup truck, parked where thousands of dancers have left their marks, soulful afterimages, over 25 years of performances and classes. Immortalized in a black-and-white photo one cold, winter morning, that pickup truck was significant if only because it looked small enough in the space to suggest to founding co-artistic director Carla Perlo that there would be enough room for a theater in the unheated brick-and-cement structure.

On the occasion of Dance Place’s 30th anniversary season -– the first five spent above a five-and-dime in Adams Morgan — this fitting return to the period a quarter century ago when Dance Place first set down roots in Northeast Washington’s Brookland neighborhood felt perfectly right. The raw, industrial look — drywall and chalk dust permeating the air, voices echoing without the muffle of curtains, cardboard and duct tape covering the windows and mirrors — provided the unadorned backdrop aerial artists Andrea Burkholder and Sharon Witting desired for “Mixed Use Space,” an evening of six pieces and a performed action painting, which inhabited a higher plane than one typically experiences at a dance performance.

Tzveta_Kassabova_by_Lillian_Cho[1] Using low-flying trapeze, Chinese circus silks, a hoop, ropes and pulleys, the pair swing, swivel and swoop, suspended above the raw floor. Beneath, two dancers, Tzveta Kassabova and Lillian Cho, make concerted effort of chalking the floor in complementary swoops, swirls and arcs that replicate the sweep of the pair’s aerial pair on an earthbound plane. By evening’s end, the stripped down space has been transformed in a performative tattoo of body-centered visual art, giving new meaning to the mid-20th century school of action painting: Cho and Kassabova walk, drop, roll, all the while constantly marking up the stage floor and back wall.

Above, another version of work occurs, most baldly in the premiere, “Work,” created for the dancers by locally based choreographer/improviser Daniel Burkholder (and husband of dancer Andrea Burkholder). The pair could be construction workers, window washers, welders, roofers, reliant on one another in a ballet of counterbalance as they run, soar and swing, harnessed to two ends of a rope rigged up by a pulley. Later the distance of that counterbalance is eschewed: they harness themselves together, pelvis to pelvis, and lean back, their weight equalized, their eyes steady, their conversation dripping with drolly bored banalities, all interspersed with a coffee break. Andrea Burkholder unspools a floor-bound phrase -– slashing arms, static curves, springs away before giving into gravity. Later, when she repeats the phrase tethered to the rope, Witting serving as puppeteer, controlling the lift and release while Burkholder dangles above the floor before collapsing in a heap. Like the other pieces on the program, “Work” remains mindful of its modern dance roots -– there are no circus tricks for the sake of wooing or wowing an audience. Throughout the evening, the pair, who both studied with circus-schooled artists, insist on fully integrating each sweep, balance and dead drop into the work as a whole, mindful of meaning and nuance far beyond dazzling tricks.

That means that even a show-piece like “Exhibition” –- with its appliquéd unitard costumes by Eric Gorsuch and the face glitter — takes the viewer beyond the flashy, here using a double swath of Chinese red silk. The piece mediates the theatricality of being “on” while onstage. Entering with a deliberate dancerly walk, the pair create a curtain with the silk before revealing themselves and mounting the silks to pause and pose in splits, entwined horizontal balances and c-curves, and upside-down bat-like hangs, ankles trapped in the silk.

“Portal,” choreographed and performed by Witting using a low-hung hoop, presents itself as a beautiful aide memoire — a remembrance of things past. Witting, clad in a silvery blue party dress dabbed with a pink rose, recalls the dreamy girl in the chair from Fokine’s 1911 “Spectre de la Rose.” Witting sweetly primps, the hoop momentarily serving as her mirror, before it becomes her partner, allowing her to be swept up by the elegant KGB piano score as she spins, winding and unwinding as if swept up in an unseen partner’s arms. Burkholder’s solo, “Refuge,” features rope netting that in twists, tension-filled spirals, and torque spins becomes a protective cocoon for the dancer. “Turf” pits the two against one another in a push-and-pull tug-of-war accompanied by the incessant sawing of strings by the Low End String Quartet.

Arachne’s signature piece, “Home,” resonates deeply as the evening closer. The Arachne pair share a single trapeze in a breathtaking series of balances and supports –- some astoundingly risky, including Burkholder supported prone on Witting’s flexed feet; the two dancers latched together at the knees or crooks of elbows carrying and sharing one another’s weight in fearless symmetry. “Home,” though, like the rest of the evening is much more than parlor tricks. It’s about finding a place, a space, a partnership and a sense of connectivity in human, physical terms. In an era when relationships are created, conducted and severed through high-tech means, “Home” serves as a testament to that which remains deeply human in us -– the need to set down roots, find a place to experience solace, wonder, sorrow and joy. Dance Place, Witting and Burkholder have stated, has long been their artistic home, as it has for multiple generations of dance artists in its three decades of service. There was no better way to begin the next 30 -– or more — years of incubating new artists and new works.

Top: Andrea Burkholder and Sharon Witting of Arachne Aerial Arts, photo Steve Canning
Bottom: Tzveta Kassabova, photo Lillian Cho
Photos courtesy Dance Place

Published September 27, 2010
© 2010 Lisa Traiger

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