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The Elementals: Water

This Vortex dance exploring water as sacred is often beautiful but not always deep

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Sept. 21, 2012

Life-giving liquid: Andy Agne is born in<i>Water</i>
Life-giving liquid: Andy Agne is born inWater
Photo courtesy of Kimberley Mead

The Elementals: Water

The Vortex, 2307 Manor Rd., 478-5282
www.vortexrep.org
Through Sept. 29
Running time: 1 hr., 20 min.

As the audience enters, two naked figures hang from the ceiling ensconced in nets. Behind them, a waterfall rushes down and floods the playing area. When the show begins, the figures break free of the nets in a slow birth, descending into the pool of water below. It's a beautiful and powerful image, full of potential.

The Vortex Repertory Company's original dance performance Water – the latest in a series of productions exploring the elements – has several moments that are similarly striking as they explore the nature of water, within an impressive set (designed by Ann Marie Gordon). Dancers move together like ocean creatures. Performers explore water as ice. They face storming waters and frolic in shallow water like children at the beach. Throughout, they seek to present water as a sacred substance, blessing the audience at the beginning and end, inviting them to participate in this collective vision.

The inherent challenge in presenting water as sacred is that water, by its very nature, is neutral. It's neither acid nor base; on its own, it holds no taste or shape. As an artistic medium, it can be viewed as raw potential, but something must be added to water for it to carry flavor.

Under the direction of Vortex Artistic Director Bonnie Cullum, and with choreography from Toni Bravo, the Vortex company imbues the onstage water with their own particular sensibility. As in many of the company's shows, there is an underlying admiration for the mystery of the natural world and the potential for spiritual discovery. There is also a touch of mischief. The program says, "WARNING! Nudity, strobe, haze, and water," and you have to appreciate the ordering and wording of that list.

Ultimately, Water doesn't quite say enough. The performers also sing during the show, with three of the women carrying most of the vocal work. The singing is wordless, however. The harmonies hint at a sense of worship and longing, but they remain unspecific. The same might be said of some sections of the choreography. The performers explore water in drastically different forms, yet much of the movement blends together.

Still, there is much to appreciate in Water. Jason Amato's lighting design interacts well with the set of constantly moving liquid, and Chad Salvata's music serves the show's vision ably. The company sets a high bar in seeking to establish meaning at the level of the sacred, however. Some audience members may fall under their spell and enjoy the quasi-religious undertones, but it is not a deep enough pool for everyone to find themselves submerged.

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