Arts Review

Warm, liquid sweetness flowed through a program of intriguing dance

Arts Review

Aphrodite Dances: Chocolate

Mercury Hall, 615 Cardinal
Sept. 28

Upon arrival at Aphrodite Dances: Chocolate, the Port flowed, chocolate-infused nibbles appeared, and Aphrodite herself wandered the scenic grounds of Mercury Hall. The program, a joint effort between Voice Dance Company, directed by choreographer Gina Patterson, and American Repertory Ensemble, with additional support by Ballet East, made a single appearance in Austin before heading west to share a double bill with the San Angelo Civic Ballet.

Once inside, the audience was packed tight but in good humor – in part due to shot glasses of warm liquid chocolate (courtesy of Fredericksburg chocolatier Lecia Duke) that we tried not to spill on our neighbors. After a toast came a sextet, "Chocolatl: Raw," featuring dancers from Puerto Rico's Compañia de Danza Siglo 21 as well as Voice regulars Chris Hannon (formerly of Ballet Austin, now with James Sewell Ballet in Minnesota) and Rebecca Niziol, a powerful and exact freelancer. At the end of their duet, she struggled to keep him contained and calm; he, frustratingly, involuntarily, continually escaped her safety.

The mood of frustration escalated in "Tempering," the product of a residency at Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan. A note in the program referred to the struggles of agricultural workers, but a solo for Puerto Rican dancer Rebeca Canchani expressed anxiety on a more basic level. With beautiful lines, in a blouse and slacks, Canchani moved frantically and then with a Zen-like levelness, evoking the restlessness of needing to do something.

Although the dancers selected for the program were impressive and intriguing, their facial expressions, at times, seemed geared more for prime-time dance shows than a "boutique performance." I wondered what it would be like if the movement, so honest and evocative itself (Patterson has a knack for avoiding cliché), was liberated from the angst of the face.

"Muse," the last section, was free of facial contortions, and the aroma of melted chocolate wafted from ample, clear beakers near an artist's easel, where it sat mellowly while dancers waltzed and bobbed by. Patterson's signature humor – not just jokes made by dancers but dancing jokes made possible by the trained and expressive bodies – graced this piece. But the expressive bodies also elicit sexuality, so dancers paired off, then left the wonderfully tall and warm Vesna Lantigua and Hannon to nuzzle, nearly, in a heady duet. Later, Canchani used chocolate to paint a shape suggestive of a pregnant figure (Aphrodite is also associated with fertility, a theme reflected in gestures throughout the program) and then, as if it were a ritual, poured warm chocolate over the shoulder blades of four reclining women. I watched their backs for reactions to the warm viscosity. None were evident, but my own shoulders repositioned, imagining the sensation.

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Aphrodite Dances: Chocolate, Voice Dance Company, Gina Patterson, American Repertory Ensemble, Ballet East, Chris Hannon, Rebecca Niziol, Compañia de Danza Siglo 21

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