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Posted in Ballet, Contemporary ballet, Dance by lisatraiger on July 21, 2012

Flight of Fancy

Capital Fringe Festival
Gala Theatre
Washington, D.C.

July 15, 2012

By Lisa Traiger


Moveius Dance in “Flight of Fancy,” photo Matt Costanza, courtesy Diane Moveius

Summer is a perfect time for companies new and established to test themselves. Stanford graduate Diana Movius’s nearly eponymous MOVEiUS Dance, a relatively fledgling company, has made a few forays onto Washington, D.C., stages in the past two years, but this month the troupe intent on presenting contemporary ballet stepped out with its first full-length work. That the 50-minute work, Flight of Fancy, was dubbed a “Steampunk ballet” made it all the more enticing – or mystifying for those uninitiated in the concepts of intermingling anachronistic and futuristic technologies in Victorian settings.

Choreographer Kathleen Howard’s picaresque libretto follows a female aviator on her quest for a utopian society. But first, ballerina Katya Vasilaky, in a leather aviator’s helmet and jacket and satiny pointe shoes, wanders through a darkly mechanized world where a herd of black-clad female dancers march, skip and roll in a semblance of lockstep. The piece embraces ideas that innovators – like the rebel character, danced by Erica Diesl – are those who can’t follow societal rules and expectations. In fact, one of the Steampunk movement’s heroines, mathematician Ada Lovelace, was considered the world’s first computer programmer, and she was among those who inspired this piece, according to Howard’s program note.

While the episodic nature of the work and some of the individual duets, trios and quartets at times proved challenging to decipher, “Flight of Fancy” remains a stylish evocation of neo-Victorian ideas and ideals that’s easy enough to watch. The enticing femininity of the costumes – lacey corsets, flouncy bloomers, bustiers, and petticoats and a palette of white, cream, pink, gray, pink and black – are undeniably attractive and the use of one of ballet’s earliest forays into technology – the pointe shoe – expands on the Steampunk metaphor, while also allowing for extended range in Howard’s movement language. Vasilaky’s aviator and Diesl’s rebel belie the staid and corseted ideal of a Victorian woman making the work an engaging and thoughtful enough take on the 19th and 21st century divide. Howards’ playlist culls from indie and old-school rock, including Buke and Gass, Arcade Fire, Spoon, Lykke Li, and the Kinks, Beatles, and Florence and the Machine. While I am no fan of the cheap and easy tricks of rock-and-roll ballets, Howard has avoided much of the musical Mickey Mouse-ing of lyrics to which many choreographers succumb. The pulsating score mostly is used as a soundtrack by providing a through line for the work, keeping one but not seduced by the lyrics. Equally artful are the low-tech props: headlamps on a dozen dancers amid a darkened stage create a fanciful moving night sky, a rolling basket and bunch of helium balloons introduces the aviator, and cut-outs of grass and clouds later suggest a new setting.

Choreographically the work draws from genres as diverse as modern, jazz, ballroom and tango though ballet remains its baseline, and the Steampunk elements, particularly the costumes, prove enticing but not overly cute. While the Moveius dancers have much going for them – evident in dancers’ bios that note training and credentials from schools including powerhouses like the School of American Ballet and North Carolina School of the Arts – as a company, the dancers are still a mixed bag. Some, especially Vasilaky, possess an extraordinarily high level of technique, others are still developing — or reacquainting themselves with – the ballet regimen. Either way, Flight of Fancy, which was self-produced under the Capital Fringe Festival umbrella, suggests that MOVEiUS Dance is moving in the right direction with challenging, attractive and adventuresome work. It’s a company that I will be looking out for in the coming season.

© 2012 Lisa Traiger
Published July 21, 2012
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