Featuring dancers and choreographers from as far away as Mexico City, Big Range Dance Festival has the goal of bringing brand-new creative work to Houston. And Program B (June 7-9) revealed just how terrific the folks at the Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex and The Center for Choreography at the University of Houston are at turning ambition into reality. The dance card included an entire act of new delights from Jane Weiner and Hope Stone Dance, as well as shorter though equally compelling works from Amy Cain and Dawn Dippel, Mechelle Flemming and Wes Veldink.
Jane Weiner's Companion Planting opened the program with rich surprise and the sort of eclectic whimsy that makes contemporary dance such a unique art form. It began with a fairy tale. Weiner stood alone on the bare black stage and, with the help of percussionist Terrence Karn, told the story of a king who asks his three daughters to quantify how much each loves him. The good third daughter in Weiner's tale is banished from the kingdom for saying she loves her daddy as much as salt which sounds pretty lame after her sisters have listed such rarities as jewels and "all the oil in the Middle East." But it turns out that life can't go on without salt, which the king discovers once a sorceress strips the land of the workaday mineral. And "salt," the lesson ends, "is like art." Weiner stepped forward to say in her most motherly voice, "Art is everywhere," and "Don't go art-free!"
Though Weiner might have been preaching to the choir (after all, the audience was full of dance lovers), the point seemed like a good place to start Act One's hour of choreographic movements, which the program called "a series of dance seedlings planted together to see how they grow." Featuring the performers from Hope Stone Dance, the "seedlings" ranged from silent, highly intellectual gestures to amusing, flat-footed ballet-with-irony. At times the dancers stood with their backs to the audience, lifting only their arms to suggest that movement has value even when it exists outside of any context. At other moments, the performance became narrative, with the dancers filling the stage, wildly waving at some lost, unseen being offstage. One of the loveliest components of Weiner's choreography was that new performers kept coming onto the stage like new, unforeseen characters entering a story.
Big Range Dance Festival
Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, 713-529-1819.
Through June 17. $11.20-$18.
And Weiner saved the best for last when Kelly Myernick appeared for a moving solo performance at the Friday-night show. Myernick wore a flowing gray blouse and her hair hung loose, which underscored the loose, liquid quality to her movement as she whipped across the stage. There was a deeply romantic passion in her body and expression throughout the solo, which ended with a breathtaking image she lay on the stage floor, slowly curling into a fetal position as Jeremy Choate's soft light pooled into the shape of an egg around her.
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Act Two opened with So Quietly from choreographers Amy Cain and Dawn Dippel. The Revolve Dance Co. performers carried out enormous spools of aqua fabric and spread them across the stage so that it looked like Christo had been there. The dancers, all dressed in brown, then moved between, over and under the gauzy sails, looking at times like they were floating on green waves.
Mechelle Flemming's Details was highly evocative. Though her dancers appeared less trained than those in the other pieces, they were more dramatic and emotionally charged, in part because Flemming's smart choreography featured a single light that was flipped on and off to shine on the performers as they created odd snippets of moments. Framed by the single spot, the dancers were caught embracing, fighting, pleading with each other. And as the images began to pile up, two things happened: A sort of story about a lover's triangle began to take shape, and the audience became a roomful of voyeurs peeking into very private-feeling moments, as though we were traveling past bedroom windows catching glimpses of what was happening inside. The effect was mesmerizing.
The last piece on the program was Wes Veldink's highly energized, often amusing Allies. Wearing flesh-toned costumes, the dancers from Revolve moved across the stage, often jogging or embracing. They seemed to be having a great deal of fun as they reveled in the very athletic capabilities of contemporary dance.
Throughout the performance, Choate's lighting created dizzying shifts of mood and tone, sometimes hushed and mournful, sometimes full of bright exuberance. Happily for dance fans who missed last weekend's delightful show, Choate's lighting will also be on view at this week's Program C, featuring new treats from Jennifer Wood of Suchu Dance, among others.