The title of Brooklyn-based white road Dance Media's Deer, to Me was one of the most clever aspects of the piece. Because of that title (and I won't pretend that an NPR story about girls who hunt I heard earlier that day didn't have a sizable influence), images of young bucks and does watermarked my experience of the piece. Thus, I was primed to notice sparse allusions and shy suggestions by director and choreographer Marisa Gruneberg (known in Austin for her work with Trouble Puppet Theater Company). An asymmetrical kneel in profile, for example, evoked Vaslav Nijinksy's Afternoon of a Faun. And at times, the lumpen figures of three dancers in lace bodysuits, curled on the floor, became vulnerable, still-warm forest creatures, the sounds of their falls dampened by a mulched floor.
Other times, however, the same trio suggested little more than underrehearsed, undertrained dancers repeating (and repeating) core movements that likely felt more interesting than they looked: a sinking rond de jambe, a low spin with the arms vaguely shielding the head. Despite the engaging, driving score by Patrik Phalen, the dancers' interpretations were even and bland. Motivation for gestures seemed to reside all too obviously in the blueprints rather than in the living work itself. Often, the dancers seemed to be plainly waiting for the next cue rather than maintaining the creation.
Emily Maurer and Jonathan Ciccarelli formed a duo that was somewhat more arresting, and a more vibrant motivation seemed to drive them as they maneuvered the members of the trio, intermittently acknowledging their own coarse relationship. In a short, black-sequined shift, the lanky yet solid Maurer was severe and leggy, with enviable vertical alignment and a steely countenance.
Other visual elements elevated the work. You can't say a word as ridiculous as "pantyhose" without conjuring up a wealth of associations, and thus, several pairs used as props had remarkable possibilities. Early on, they were worn by the women of the trio, each exploring the hose's elastic and skinlike properties. Later, pairs were strung together to make a garland to display, then a rope to bind. Throughout the work, video projected behind the dancers seemed to show an alternate version of the same reality; the timing of the playing and pausing against the live movement onstage produced a syncopated effect, allowing for welcome texture.
The performance schedule for white road's Austin tour is ambitious: eight performances were scheduled for the company's two-week stay. Deer, to Me closed Oct. 23, but North Country, another work by Gruneberg, said to explore themes of domesticity set to music by Austin composer Justin Sherburn, opens Oct. 27.
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