MorrisonDance – HUManIMALS
Elu Dance Company – barefaced
Gordon Square Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre
March 17-19, 2016
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Kicking off Cleveland Public Theatre annual DanceWorks series, the split bill of Cleveland-based modern dance troupes MorrisonDance and Elu Dance Company (formerly Without Words Movement), provided an evening of opposites; one, the dance equivalent of snack food. The other, a dish filled with complex flavors ─ both satisfying in their own rights.
The program, on March 17 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, began with MorrisonDance’s HUManIMALS, choreographed by company founder Sarah Morrison and Taliesin Reid Haugh.
The multimedia work tapped into the similarities and differences humans share with our animal kingdom brethren and began with “Murmuration Improvisation,” a structured improvisation performed by the company’s dancers.
Dancing in front of a video projection of random people’s feet as they walked down a street (compiled from footage from RiMind and keepturningleft.co.uk), MorrisonDance’s performers mimicked those in the video. This was a recurring theme throughout the piece with a video being shown and then the performers emulating the action in it in some way afterwards. Moving to music by Marconi Union, the dancers walked about as Inlet Dance Theatre’s Joshua Brown seated in the audience, called out word suggestions from the audience such as “strength” and “passion” that then directed the performer’s actions. The improvisation was an exercise in the obvious and proved uninteresting.
Next, video from a 2010 episode of PBS’s Nature showed a pat of Chilean flamencos moving about as a prelude to Morrison’s “Why?,” in which six dancers basically recreated what the flamencos in the videos did. Wearing flamenco heads created by Scott Radke and dancing to music by Irish cellist Vyvienne Long, the dancers’ amusing impressions of flamencos proved pleasing. A similar vignette about the movements of the peacock spider followed.
Keeping with the uncomplicated theme of HUManIMALS, Haugh’s “Simian Suit Sequence” began with the showing of a popular YouTube video from Frans de Waal’s “Moral Behavior in Animals” TED talk in which Capuchin monkeys were given unequal rewards for doing the same task. Like humans the monkeys reacted poorly to the inequality. In Haugh’s dance work that followed, Morrison portrayed a lab worker monitoring the activity of three other dancers that acted like monkeys in feel-good, hip hop-infused choreography.
On the whole HUManIMALS was lighthearted fare suitable for audiences of all ages.
MorrisonDance’s half of the evening concluded with the group work “A Sense of belonging,” choreographed by Morrison, and its most challenging and complex work, the solo “Saudade,” created and performed by MaryPat Dorr. Meaning a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia, “Saudade,” was danced to music by art pop collective The Irrepressibles and was an emotional cloudburst compared to HUManIMALS beaming sunshine. Dorr’s performance of the solo rendered a special beauty that was spellbinding.
Where MorrisonDance’s HUManIMALS had the simple joys of a cartoon, Elu Dance Company’s barefaced had all the earmarks of a Greek tragedy.
Directed, choreographed and performed by company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, barefaced was heavily inspired by C.S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold” and was a cut above the prior works I have seen from the pair as well as being a highlight of Cleveland’s 2015-2016 dance season.
Following the novel’s storyline, Clark and Valley played out in dance the heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their emotional bond. Set to music composed, performed and recorded by artists from Ohio-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also used recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to smartly help drive its storytelling.
In the work, Clark portrayed Psyche, the cast out wife of Cupid looking for redemption, and Valley, danced the role of her older sister Orual, a mortal woman jealous of the life of a goddess Psyche had and resentful of Cupid for luring Psyche away from her and leaving her eternally alone and lonely.
Danced on and around a multi-tiered set piece by Mark Sugiuchi that the performers used as a symbolic ladder to the realm of the gods, the work had the feel of a Martha Graham mythology-themed ballet but with very different movement language. The athletic pair of Clark and Valley danced with strength and grace in well-crafted choreography filled with rounded arm and shoulder movements and characterized by emotionally riveting acting that brilliantly revealed the joys and plight of their characters.
Thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived, barefaced enhanced in dance Lewis’ captivating story. Clark and Valley were marvelous in eliciting empathy, sympathy and caring for their characters from the audience. And with its captivating story and powerful dancing, barefaced left a lasting impression that lingered long after Clark and Valley took their final bows.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.