Lights up on the Audience
Dance Conversations at the Flea
Once a month at The Flea Theater, the stage lights dim, movement halts, and music is silenced; the audience comes alive. Dance Conversations at the Flea, a free monthly performance curated by Nina Winthrop, presents works-in-progress performed by artists unafraid of experimenting with new ideas and forms. There are four mini-performances each month—followed by a discussion between the moderator, the choreographers, and the audience.
This October, the first piece—a quartet choreographed by Molissa Fenley—was a traditional modern composition with ballet undertones and a large focus on turns and balance. The graceful and delicate foundation of the choreography was contrasted by the dancers’ sharp, blade-like arm movements, which gave the sensation of space being carved and sliced apart. It was fascinating watching Fenley perform alongside her company, although at times I found it distracting. Her dominative presence gave the other company members a rather sophomoric air. Fenley’s familiarity with her own choreography let the audience know that she owned the movement and that certain members of the ensemble were merely borrowing from a great.
Fenley’s classical piece led into the more experimental work of Tatyanna Tenenbaum, the youngest choreographer featured in the collection. Moderator Cherylyn Lavagnino marveled that there was “very much something about Tenenbaum’s own generation that embodied her work.” I had to agree. As a fellow member of Generation Y, I found the piece spoke to me directly. Its relatable element had something to do with the clear, sparse prose that ran though the work. The spoken phrases, combined with Tenenbaum’s singing voice, gave the movement a soothing backdrop. This layered performance fit nicely within the greater collage of the evening. The movement, poetry, and singing were all inspired by a letter Tenenbaum had received from, perhaps, a former love interest.
The two works that followed Tenenbaum’s incorporated spoken word, and further blurred the line that separates performance art and dance. Julie Troost acted out, through dance and limited speech, the death of her grandmother. A moving spectacle: a trio, performed by herself and two other ensemble members. The entire segment took place in her dying grandmother’s hospital room, which was clearly represented with a bed and visitor’s chairs.
Jody Oberfelder’s piece also incorporated voice; the dancers shouted out phrases relating to their movement and interactions. The company, known for its athleticism, humor, and risk taking, brought to the table a dynamic performance filled with complicated lifts. As a whole, the choreography displayed great potential and Oberfelder commented that it had been completed only earlier that day.
The show in its entirety felt textured but a little rough around the edges. Missing were the formal transitions between mini-performances, technical lighting, and wing exits. However, the lack of glitz and glamour was at times profoundly refreshing; it allowed for the majority of the focus to be placed upon technique and choreography. The Flea traditionally serves as an actor’s theater; this intimate environment made the venue perfect for the viewing of works-in-progress. And in this city filled with crashing markets and general economic distress, who can resist free art? Especially when it comes with a side of discussion.
The November performance will commence on the 18th at 7pm. It will be moderated by Reggie Wilson and includes work by Donna Scro Gentile, STRONGERCircus, Rebecca Lazier, and Sasha Welsh & Siri Peterson.
Simone Larson is an Evanstonian living in Brooklyn.