The creative process is a mysterious one no matter what medium the artist is working in. For choreographers, a new dance might begin with improvisation, preselected music, a set movement motif, an emotion or an exploration of a theme or idea. For Rednerrus Feil Artistic Director Amy Llanes, the creative process itself became the source of investigation when she was advised to think of choreography as play. The result is UNO, a funny and spirited dance piece that was presented at Spacetaker's Winter Street Studios on June 29 and 30.
In developing UNO, Llanes took the call to play literally. With a box of UNO in hand, the company assigned a movement vocabulary to each card and then danced the game in its newly physical form. The structured improvisation is entertaining to watch; even though the five women never make eye contact with the audience, their collective spunk invites the audience into the dance. Individual personalities surface. They joke with each other and one-up each other, each anticipating the other's move. The dancers have such a good time performing the game, one wishes they could have spent a little more time moving as an ensemble. The dance's most gleeful movement phrase -- three grounded chassés, a throwaway and a full-turn in two mini-jumps -- hints at some really dynamic possibilities as a body in unison.
The second part of the concert marked a shift in dramatic tone. Breathless is a dance of sorrow, of a woman's frustrations of not being able to conceive a child. The piece begins with two dancers sitting side-by-side, Jamie Zahradnik on the left and Ashley Clos on the right. Zahradnik writhes in her seat, visibly disturbed. By the time she leaves her folding chair, she is moving in a frenzy. Clos remains seated, while Zahradnik dances around her in a whirlwind of madness. Even from up close, it is hard to see if Clos is even breathing, but the pain that is written on her face is more than legible; the tempest by her side isn't her counterpart, but a physical manifestation of what's going on inside of her.
UNO and Breathless make interesting bedfellows. Whereas UNO's experimental jesting is clearly meant to draw the audience in, Breathless creates a vortex of synergy and throws it outward. In such a tight space as Winter Street Studios, the effect is suffocating, and the emotional strain of Clos's character that much more palpable. By the end of the dance, the audience is certainly left breathless.