Dance and theater mix

V. Paul

Braided tendrils of theatrical interpretation and the grace and energy of the human body in motion embraced a sold-out audience in “On the Edge,” Friday’s debut performance for the Barbara Barker Dance Center’s new theater.
The University theater and dance department opened their two-week theater and dance collaboration, combining equal measures of dancing actors and acting dancers in three pieces by artists famous for blending the two art forms.
In the tradition of Loãe Fuller, whose combination of theatrical imagery and choreography won her international acclaim a century ago, students spent the last four to seven weeks developing their scripts and choreography in a medium that is now coming of age in performing arts.
“Physical-based theater is the way of the future,” said Andreas Levi, a senior in theater and performer in “The Lost Project.” “It centers on the body’s center, where movement and voice come from. Dance and theater have a future together because combined they are freaking powerful.”
The show’s three pieces demonstrated this power of imagery and choreography on stage.
Kari Margolis of Minneapolis’ Margolis Brown Company, directed “Koppelvision and Other Digital Deities.” The play included a telephone scene with six performers striking exaggerated poses while carrying on colliding conversations which bounced the audience from story to story.
“Koppelvision” examines contemporary ritualized behavior in a medieval context, how everyday activities such as phone calls or morning shaves carry the same ritual-like value as religious practices a millennium ago. Although Margolis considers herself a part of the theatrical community, her “movement theater” technique and research also root her in dance, she said.
“It’s just that we start our creative processes from the physical and visceral,” Margolis said. “We allow the play to develop from our feet. We’re looking for a totally integrated methodology that interprets the physical through the method that makes its way to text.”
Dialogue and text played critical roles in Stuart Pimsler’s piece, “People in Pairs, Part I: Alone, Together.” “People” examines the nature of relationships between two people by reflecting spoken words off of themes communicated by the performers’ bodies.
The performers elicited emotional responses from the audience, who chuckled at the performers’ depiction of the initial romantic attraction between two people and were hushed during the tense realization of a love unfulfilled.
“I’ve always been interested in blending art and text and really anything else I need to use whether it’s film or stage design,” said Pimsler of the Ohio-based Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater company.
“I’m just really interested in whatever it takes to make sure whatever is happening on stage is communicated to the audience,” Pimsler added. “The impulse that drives my work is an interest in the way our lives inspire art-making.”
Art-making for the third piece meant its performers drew phrases and themes from literature to produce “The Lost Project,” the New York-based Saratoga International Theater Institute’s contribution to the performance.
J. Ed Araiza, a member of SITI, led the performers through intense physical training and round-table discussions to produce a play exploring how childhood fears are translated into adulthood and how people resist “growing up.”
“It’s about the performers,” Araiza said. “The play was built out of their bodies and out of their words. They gave me their words and I gave them the structure. They did all the research, wrote the play as well as training, in four weeks, from scratch. That was because we had been training so much as an ensemble, so they were able to react quickly to each other.”
Opening night’s audience enjoyed the performers’ efforts to blend theater and dance and appreciated the fact that the two departments were brought together.
“I thought is was fascinating, unusual and might even be insightful,” said Ted Schave, an audience member from Minneapolis about “Koppelvision.” “Is it a commentary on society or a commentary on your life? That’s what made you think of the world around you.”
Theater and dance officials intend to continue producing collaborative performances between theater and dance students. A follow-up performance, which may be called “Beyond the Edge” or “Over the Edge”, is in the works for next season, said Marge Maddux, director of the dance program.
“It’s really an advantage for our students to get to work with this while in school,” Maddux said. “This experience makes them more desirable when they get out there.”