The inspiration for Kathy Dunn Hamrick Dance Company's latest offering, Royal Pair: Games We Play, sprang from a quote from Cyrano de Bergerac ("No more wonder than getting a royal pair in a hundred casts of the dice"), Hamrick leash-training her dog, and the structure of games. A video introduction by Julia Halperin visually juxtaposed kids playing tag and red light/green light against snippets of dancers abstracting the movement in rehearsal and Hamrick running with her dog -- or should I say, her dog running with Hamrick holding on for dear life. Without narration, the brief piece succinctly demonstrated how choreographers mine daily life experiences for nuggets and phrases of movement material.
The choreography explored abstract versions of popular children's games such as Simon Says, leapfrog, hopscotch, freeze tag, and musical chairs, with transitions of running, skipping, and rhythmic, folk dance-ish hopping and stamping. The dancers performed Hamrick's lyrically percussive and episodic technique with smiling ease. Particularly enchanting was Renee Nunez, whose long limbs expanded to fill the stage with beautiful lines and three-dimensional shaping while her fellow company members played a game of hand shadows on the backdrop.
Laced throughout with subtle humor and playfulness, the piece featured pastel-clad dancers dragging others across the stage, snootily sporting tiaras and crowns, mimicking each other's gestures, and luring unsuspecting dancers to isolated parts of the stage and sneaking away. Yet the production did not present a unified whole. Except for the shadowplay gobos, the lighting, with occasional and unflattering red light and repetitive rotating backgrounds, seemed to be created for another show. Shane O Madden's plaintive violin, the vocals, and didgeridoo would have been enough accompaniment, but the addition of electronica-style keyboard and drum machine work compromised the earthy dynamics in the choreography and never truly meshed with the lyrical sections. The hypnotic nature of the music too often seemed to corner the unison work into waiting for the first beat of each measure before beginning a new movement phrase. A lack of musical landmarks flattened out the syncopation of the dancing, overpowering it with a constant, driving meter rather than allowing it to play within the field of sound.
It was not a game but a battle, albeit a friendly battle, for center stage. I was rooting for the dancing to win.
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