The Setup: On the evenings of January 17 and 18, five Houston choreographers presented work at The Barn in 12 Minutes Max! The five dance artists, all of which are participants in the Fieldwork process, included Rebekah Chappell, Sara Draper, Laura Gutierrez, Cori Miller and jhon r. stronks.
The Execution: In an evening of interesting dances, the most compelling was Cori Miller's solo an empty bliss. Dressed in a glittering rose pink dress and hair coiffed in a stylish beehive, Cori preens at the audience and explores the space in her orbit, her arms extending from her spine like probing tendrils; she's a moving mannequin on display. The way she grins - a smirk of beguilement - it's not hard to imagine her as a prom queen of the '70s.
But prom queens are rarely happy, no matter what era they come from. Suddenly, her body is wracked by tremors, and her knees buckle as she falls to the floor. There is a monster underneath this perfect pink picture, and it wreaks havoc on her body as her leg swings maniacally from left to right until she is propelled up into a whirlwind of movement. Her arms flail in rapid circles, like a windup doll, and her feet patter across the floor like falling hail.
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This relentless release results in Cori in a heap of pink crooning "Tears on My Pillow." The rendition is tearful, mournful, her voice broken in the realization that she has lost the man that her shimmering silhouette managed to capture. But Cori's character is one of substance and resilience. She gathers herself up, and poses herself into the mannequin/model of before. She returns to the carefully articulated movement of the beginning of the dance, her character ready to love and be ruined once again.
Also of special note was Laura Gutierrez's Farewell, Pineapple Man, which was danced to the live accompaniment of William vonReichbauer. The musician's warm arrangements of popular songs make a striking companion to the hard lines of Laura's choreography, much of which is in sharp profile. This isn't exactly lyrical dance, but I couldn't help but get the impression that the dance was meant to be an embodiment of the verses. In some moments, the body as extension of song is a literal take, as the dancer's feet shot out from the bottom of the bass and as she curls into the instrument's ridges.
What makes this collaboration between dancer and musician work is its spirit of playfulness. Even during the songs of jilted love, there is a strong emotional connection between movement and music, which makes for a compassionate character study of a woman whose interior life mirrors a dive bar's jukebox playlist. A note must be made about the clarity of Laura's dance, with every shape articulated to its fullest potential and every step a definite contribution to choreographic whole. It's beautiful watch in the same way vonReichbauer's musicianship is beautiful to hear.
The Verdict: I enjoyed this concert because despite the disparate vocabularies of the movement, the dances seemed to be organized by similar principals of construction. In 12 minutes or less, each dance conveyed a narrative structure that presented conflict, climax and denouement. In this context, I am inclined to view these works as exercises in storytelling, in which case the efforts of Miller and Gutierrez felt the most complete and satisfying. With understated fragility and carefully chosen moments of psychological revelation, Miller created a character with a clear emotional trajectory; with wit and smart musicality, Gutierrez evoked a lovelorn soul in search of a road to recovery. In short, both artists created my favorite type of work: character dances, and dances with character.