Women’s-empowerment theme makes for a strong evening of dance from fireWALL dance theater


L-R: Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater's "Admission." Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R: Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater’s “Admission.” Photo by Duerring Photography.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Familiar themes of self-acceptance, female empowerment and sisterhood are the driving forces behind fireWALL dance theater’s latest production, Admission.

The 50-minute intermissionless dance work, choreographed by fireWALL artistic director/dancer Elisa-Marie Alaio, was staged at the company’s home, off the WALL Performing Arts Center. Set to original music and sound by Ryan McMasters, the production began with its all-female cast of six (including Alaio) in silhouette behind a row of large panels at the back of the stage. As a cacophony of recorded whispered voices filled the theater, the dancers, in shadow, poured forth a series of gestures that revealed them in states of worry, self-doubt, and feeling trapped by their own fears.

The dancers then emerged from behind the panels onto a stage crisscrossed with bungee cords. As if caught in a web of similarly destructive feelings, the dancers one by one pushed, pulled and stretched the cords with their bodies, seeming to battle some oppressive force. The bungee cords were miked, and when struck by the dancers they emitted thunderous sounds, adding drama to the sequence that ended with all the dancers coming together to dismantle the bungee web.

For the first half of the largely non-narrative work, Alaio’s choreography offered visual metaphors for the dark feelings and emotions underlying its themes. But Admission‘s real strength and entertainment value came in the onslaught of full-throttle, energetic and athletic dance sequences that followed.

L-R: Elisa-Marie Alaio, Glenna Clark, Jenna Rae Smith, Grace Cohen, Sara Cohen, Cammi Nevarez in fireWall dance theater's "Admission." Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R: Elisa-Marie Alaio, Glenna Clark, Jenna Rae Smith, Grace Cohen, Sara Cohen, Cammi Nevarez in fireWall dance theater’s “Admission.” Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R:  Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater's "Admission." Photo by Duerring Photography.

L-R: Grace Cohen, Jenna Rae Smith, Elisa Marie Alaio, Cammi Nevarez, Sara Cohen, Glenna Clark in fireWall dance theater’s “Admission.” Photo by Duerring Photography.

As if suddenly empowered and given the green light to let loose, the dancers launched into exhilarating sequences full of power and pace that had them traversing the stage as a unit in Alaio’s bold choreography.

Whirlwind solos by Alaio, Cammi Nevarez and Jenna Rae Smith followed as a seemingly relentless succession of hard-driving movement phrases came one after the other. Alaio’s choreography mixed styles from jazz to hip hop, creating wonderful bursts of dancing that at times had the feel and intensity of an opening routine on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.

The evenly matched cast also included dancers Sara Cohen, Grace Cohen and Glenna Clark. They were fabulous, as were the efforts of the production crew, Bob Steineck’s lighting and McMaster’s filmic score.

fireWALL dance theater’s Admission, continues through Sat., June 6 Off the Wall PAC, 25 W. Main St., Carnegie. $5-20. 888-718-4253 or insideoffthewall.com

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on June 3, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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