Cleveland Public Theatre 2017 DanceWorks Series
Antaeus Dance & Travesty Dance Group – Taking the Fall
Cleveland Public Theatre – James Levin Theatre
May 4-6, 2017
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
For area dance fans and the Northeast Ohio dance community the opening weekend of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks series is always a cause for excitement. But tempering that excitement this past weekend was the knowledge that it would be the last time longtime fixtures on the DanceWorks series and in the local dance community, Joan Meggitt’s Antaeus Dance would be seen. Founded in 2000, the company took its final bows in Taking the Fall, a joint production with like-minded movers Travesty Dance Group (TDG) at CPT’s James Levin Theatre.
Taking the Fall’s final showing this past Saturday, May 6, proved a showcase of the choreographic aesthetics of each of the company’s respective directors, Meggitt, and TDG’s Kimberly Karpanty, both faculty members in the School of Theatre and Dance at Kent State University.
The program, whose overarching theme “pays homage to those who keep us safe, demand our honesty and serve as models for integrity and right action,” says Karpanty, began with two works by her and performed by TDG.
In “we all had flowers” (2016), five women stood along a diagonal line with their hands shielding their faces. Like a calculated game of peek-a-boo, the women took turns sliding one hand slowly down from over an eye and then back into place again. The dancers then one at a time engaged in little snippets of movement that took out from their place in line and back in again.
Set to an excerpt from Julia Wolfe’s 2015 Pulitzer Prize-winning oratorio for choir and chamber ensemble “Anthracite Fields,” the moody, post-modern-styled work, mixed spurts of little hops, kicks and runs with hand and arm gestures and body positioning that at times suggested the blooming of flowers.
Next came, Karpanty’s trio “irreverence” (2016) that stylistically could have been mistaken for another section of “we all had flowers.” Danced to music by Dutch classical pianist and composer Jeroen van Veen, the work, apart from a more aggressive tone, used variations on movements seen in “we all had flowers.” In it, a dancer again shielded her face with her hands, only this time with splayed fingers to reveal her intense stare underneath.
Quiet gestures such as one dancer rapidly rubbing together the two middle fingers of one hand to draw another dancer’s attention were juxtaposed with several dancers’ loud slapping of hands on thighs. More a work revealing emotionality than any particular narrative, “irreverence,” ended powerfully with one dancer suddenly dropping to the floor in a heap as the other two turned their backs to her and to the audience.
The first of two works by Antaeus Dance, the premiere of Meggitt’s “UpShift” was a brief and lively solo created for longtime company member Heather Koniz Young as a parting gift to her.
Set to an original percussive score by Antaeus’ de facto resident composer, associate professor of music at Cleveland State University, Greg D’Alessio, Koniz Young was solid executing Meggitt’s stiff darting arm movements and Paul Taylor-like torso-twisting dance moves. The upbeat solo was a tasty appetizer for Antaeus’ group work to come.
The Ohio premiere of Meggitt and Karpanty’s dance on film short, alter idem (second self) was another bite size morsel of goodness. Shot on location in rural Suffield, Ohio with music by D’Alessio played beautifully by violinist Sarah Blick, the 8-minute film featured Meggitt traversing an old wooden structure such as a barn or large chicken coop. In the film we see her from many angles appearing and disappearing from sight, holding onto support posts, seated in a chair running through gestural hand movements and eerily staring off into the distance. In the film’s closing frames Meggitt is seen standing still, back to us, in a crop field as if she, and we, are looking down at her like an out-of-body experience.
After solo excerpts of Karpanty performed of her new work “Precipice,” the program concluded with its two finest offerings beginning with TDG’s “the tongue of the wise,” choreographed by Karpanty.
Set to music by Bang on a Can All-Stars along with excerpts from a sermon by Pastor Jim Cymbala of The Brooklyn Tabernacle recited live by Chuck Richie, the work pitted dancers Stephanie Harris and Tanya Mucci against one another as the embodiment of the wise man and the fool.
During the cleverly-crafted work Richie, moving as an actor among the dancers, spoke of the differences between the fool and the wise man’s reactions to uncomfortable situations as the two dancers gave visual imagery to what Richie was saying, often aggressively tussling with one another.
Ultimately, a chastising of how one person’s thoughts spoken with malice can hurt another, Richie offered up this bit of wisdom, “Endurance is what God gives you to get through situations. Patience is what God gives you to get through people.”
In the conversation as being Meggitt’s magnum opus, the final work on the program, “Mercy” (2016), encapsulated those qualities that have come to define her work for Antaeus Dance over the past 16-years. Wonderfully crafted with a mix of quiet dignity, grace, and beauty, “Mercy” revisited a recurring theme in Meggitt’s works, the interplay between the individual and the collective.
In it, Antaeus’ full complement of 6-dancers including Meggitt, moved through deliberate and heartfelt choreography that bubbled up feelings between the dancers (and audience) of caring, hopefulness, melancholy and longing. Dancing to another of D’Alessio’s original scores, the veteran unit of dancers never looked better in Meggitt’s signature movement language. They flowed through interactions with each other that were tender and full of purpose. In a nod to several past Antaeus works, the diminutive Desmond L. Davis at one point was carried offstage cradled in the arms of fellow dancer Melissa Knestaut Ajayi.
In her last performance with the company she founded, Meggitt captivated with her usual precision and determination. Pausing at times during the work to look back reflectively at the other dancers, one got the sense she was also wishing them farewell and thanking them for the years they spent together as a troupe.
A fitting end to Taking the Fall, “Mercy,” a culmination of all the Antaeus works that came before it, shone as a final gem in Antaeus Dance’s legacy.
Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2017 DanceWorks series continues 7:00 p.m., every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, through June 3 at CPT’s newly renovated James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $12/Thursdays and $30/Friday & Saturday. For more information and tickets call (216) 631.2727 x501 or visit cptonline.org.