Kate Weare & Monica Bill Barnes at the Joyce Theatre
Last night’s performance at the Joyce Theatre—the other half of the alternating double-bills they’re running this week—is a perfect illustration of what I was writing about yesterday when I faulted Camille A. Barnes’ choreography for relying too heavily on the music, and letting her own voice get lost against the structure and content of the score. Kate Weare‘s Bright Land serves as a brilliant contrast. She, too, sets out to work with a distinct musical style, setting the piece opposite a live bluegrass band. But aside from an occasional visual reference to traditional folkdancing, Weare lets her company of four extremely gifted dancers work in a manner completely distinct from the aesthetic suggested by the music.
Weare establishes the tone quickly: as Bright Land opens, the band playing a tune upstage right, the four dancers, two male and two female, come in and form pairs around a square of light on the floor. But nearly as soon as the traditional square dance has been suggested, Weare changes the mood, sending the two male dancers into a intense bit of floor work.
There are a lot of wonderful parts of Bright Land as Weare competently leads you through the dramatic flow of the roughly 45-minute piece. Marlena Penny Oden and Douglas Gillespie perform a fantastic duet, Oden by turns playing fierce and then vulnerable, while singer Jeff Kazor, whose gravelly voice recalls Nick Cave, growls a ballad that reaches for the upper limits of his range, the slight cracking of his voice adding a poignant touch to the song’s yearning moroseness.
Bright Land plays across more than a dozen songs, giving Weare plenty of room to explore different moods and themes. Toward the end, she works some beautiful sculptural magic with the ensemble performing in silhouette. And my personal favorite moment followed a pas de deux in which dancer Leslie Kraus wound up straddling her partner lying on the floor, leaning up at an angle to face her. As the music finishes, she suddenly lurches forward, headbutting him in the chest, the dull thud reverberating in the theatre. Three or four headbutts later, she’s beat him down to the floor, each blow, followed by a long pause, evoking something powerful and feminine that would have been lost had Weare relied too much on traditional dance forms and their gender roles, which was throughout a subtext to the work.
Monica Bill Barnes‘s Another Parade was a slightly less ambitious work but one that surprised me by the end. Barnes’s company of four female dancers are all dressed in similar, slightly frumpy outfits (turtleneck sweaters and wool skirts—you have to give them credit for performing in those costumes in this weather alone). The dancers begin and frequently return to slightly stilted, closed postures, but over the course of the piece (which alternates between inward looking, expressionistic sequences set to classical music and outward, socially focused bits set to pop by James Brown and Elvis), through establishing a sort of group support system, they encourage one another to open up and sort of let it all out.
The press notes describe the piece as being a “celebration” of the joy of being onstage, but you could read it just as well as a narrative about young women struggling to express themselves in a social situation that discourages their individuality. Or in other words, a story about wallflowers at a party. Another Parade opens with Celia Rowlson-Hall soloing stiffly across the stage, making guarded, almost threatening eyes at the audience, and flashing the occasional bit of midriff.
That action becomes a motif throughout, the four women risking exposing themselves onstage (in a rather tame and metaphorical way, through pulling up their sweaters to expose stomach or flashing a bit of shoulder). At first, I was nervous that the comic, fourth-wall breaking components would eventually render the piece a saccharine-sweet story about young women overcoming their fear of embarrassment and learning to respect themselves and love their bodies. But while that is a part of it, ultimately Barnes allows so much richness to be developed throughout, and juggles the comedy with personal expressiveness so deftly, that by the end, when the four women grab partners from the audience to dance with onstage, the potentially cheesy bit plays precisely because you’ve be won over—a not too shabby feat.
The joint bill of Monica Bill Barnes and Kate Weare plays again Thurs., Aug. 12 and Sat., Aug. 14 in an alternating repertory with works by Andrea Miller/Gallim Dance and Camille A. Barnes. Saturday, there’s a “family friendly” matinee featuring selections from all four choreographers.See here for tickets.