The tenth anniversary of Big Range will most certainly be remembered for its hallmark piece, Afternono, a site-specific work choreographed by Suchu Artistic Director Jennifer Wood. The dance is set inside the West Oaks Art House, a space that was previously a J. C. Penney department store. Site-specific works are a postmodern development that rejects the limitations of the proscenium stage for an experience that is more organic for the audience. Onlookers do not merely sit and watch; instead, they inhabit the space of the dancers, thereby becoming a part of the performance itself.
The West Oaks Art House proves an eerie space. Checkout counters remain in their original positions, a customer service sign hangs from the ceiling, and the base of an elevator peeks out of the sealed tarp blocking entry to the second floor. The snakelike train of dancers that sneaks out of a corner door is as unsettling as it is fascinating. The dancers, dressed like '70s flower children, run, jog and march in fits and starts, alternating leaders as if seeking deliverance from an endless maze of empty commercialism. And that's just the beginning of this marquee work.
The evening segment of the festival is held at the Barnevelder and is the primary festival showcase for a diverse lineup of choreographers that includes both local and national dance artists. The short works investigate personal themes and experiment with movement; all display dance vocabularies unique to their choreographers. Some of the more esoteric pieces may leave the audience cold.
However, there are always a few unquestionable gems on display. The highlight of Program B was Be(A)stie by native Houstonians Alex Abarca and Corian Ellisor. This riotously funny tribute to friendship incorporated spoken monologues, film and multimedia that emphasized the central theme rather than undermined it. The poignant, yet, comical duets are the type of dance that everyone can understand and enjoy.
Program C will conclude the three-weekend festival with works from Blake Beckham, Liana Conyers, Wayne M. Smith and Houston-based choreographer jhon r. stronks. University of Houston faculty member Karen Stokes will also present two dance films in collaboration with Venturing Out Performance Lab. It's sure to be a satisfying closer to an innovative celebration of dance.
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The Big Range Dance Festival runs through June 16 at Barnevelder Movement/Arts Complex, 2201 Preston Street, and West Oaks Art House, 2600 Highway 6 South. For information, 713-529-1819 or visit the Suchu website.