Rebecca reviews 'World Music & Yoga Ballet' and 'Aria' 

My Sunday on the Fringe left me resolving to see more local dance performances with more frequency throughout the year. I caught two inspiring shows: an afternoon performance of “World Music & Yoga Ballet” and the opening evening performance of “Aria,” both at the Main Stage in the spectacular Lyric Theatre.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from “World Music & Yoga Ballet” — the title strikes a funny balance of giving just enough information to bring to mind a mishmash of graceful, poised movements and just little enough info to intrigue. But knowing that the show was directed by Heather Roffe (the choreographer and dancer behind the “Merged” series in past Rochester Fringes), I requested a ticket.

But the image used to advertise the show — of two women in skimpy cobalt leotards and pointe shoes locking arms and each leaning backward in a precarious way I’d have trouble recovering from — didn’t end up representing what was presented on stage. The show started off with two musicians gently striking low-toned resonating gongs and brushing hanging chimes. A sacred and peppy mix of recorded percussion and vocals blended with the lilting live flute played beautifully by Tommy Gravino, all together blending a mix of Eastern cultures’ music.

The all-women dancers moved through the different pieces, their shifting poses subtly referencing the strength and grace of both yoga and ballet. Something in all the self-possessed loveliness and capacity of the women on stage had me smirking, thinking about how much fun and good for us it would be to have an expressive slow-movement session like this in a girlfriend’s living room. Like, regularly. Or better yet, if seven or so of us gathered to revel together under the moonlight, expressing our power among peers, those bewitched or terrified by it be damned.

In one of the pieces, Roffe & another dancer mirrored each other’s slow, deliberate movements, maintaining eye contact as they moved opposite one another across the stage, and it occurred to me what a great practice this could be for those out of synch — like, incorporated into a couples therapy kind of thing. It seems like it would have great empathy-inducing potential to help brutalizing and wounded egos drop away, if people were willing to open up enough to let their softness connect to softness. Anyway, it was a soothing, pretty performance and an hour well spent.

That’s it for “World Music & Yoga Ballet” at this Fringe.

“Aria” opened on Sunday to a nearly full audience. This year’s iteration of what’s come to be an annual collaboration between BIODANCE choreographer Missy Pfohl Smith and digital media artist W. Michelle Harris, every bit of the performance was an absolute masterpiece. This year the collaborators were joined by soprano Kearstin Piper Brown and chamber ensemble fivebyfive, as well as several guest dancers.

As in previous Fringe performances, a subtle prelude was performed while the audience settled in, featuring dancers moving almost trance-like about the space. This time, one white-clad performer perched in each of the tall stained glass windows, while all along the front pews BIODANCE members in rosy crimson satin and linen shifted slowly between holding graceful poses.

The first piece, “Constant,” combined gentle music with almost martial arts-like movements where limbs became arrows, with shimmeringly vibrant projections and shadow play from the dancers falling against the stage’s gorgeous back wall.

The co-conceivers of this performance brilliantly puzzled together some seemingly disparate elements: Traditional opera, freeform interpretive dance, and Harris’s appropriately gentle-yet-turbulent digital media projections (that, by the way, never failed in making impressively clever use of the space's unique quirks like the columns that frame the stage’s back wall). And each of the several times that Brown released the siren from her depths I forgot that I haven't really cared about opera and just sat there, jaw dropped, entirely enthralled.

My face started leaking during my favorite piece of the evening, “Parlour Games” — I have been waiting and waiting for something to crack me open during a particularly numb low I’ve been stuck in, and this did the trick. An absorbing red light fell on the dancers as they moved fluidly in time with urgent, flowing music. Their bodies became flames licking at the air, at once chaotic and restrained. All elegance, the work also seemed to convey a feeling of frustration in limitation, as though all of the wondrous world were set out for consuming, but just out of reach. As the music slowed and became both more deliberate and hesitant, each cautious piano note haltingly pounding and peeling out into the cavernous space, the dancers sped past one another in rapidly pivoting stops and starts. And then in resonant silence, they each made slow, sweeping, wonder-filled gestures skyward.

In “Phantom Waltz,” Rose Paquarello Beauchamp and Nanako Horikawa Mandrino navigated the small stage and one other, while connected by a long red train that was tied around each of their waists. By turns, the draping fabric billowed and was tugged, formed shelter and swaddling.

I sincerely hope there’s an opportunity for “Aria” to be presented in the coming year after Fringe closes.

“Aria” will be performed once more during 2018 Rochester Fringe, on Monday, September 17, 8 p.m., at Lyric Theatre: Main Stage. $12, appropriate for all ages.

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