Performa / Dance's Midsummer Offerings

The three dances in this mixed program all turned on the difficulty of making connections

(l-r) Alexa Capareda, Magdalena Jarkowiec, and Kelsey Oliver in “Overseas Phone Call, 1987” (Photo by Anne Marie Bloodgood)

Connecting with others – what a Sisyphean quest! Distance, whether philosophical or geographical, is a steep hill. The desire to be understood was the theme, threaded through three dances on romantic, familial, and communal relationships, of the third concert by Jennifer Hart's exceptional pickup company, Performa/Dance.

In the opening work, the lugubrious "Better Left Unsaid" by Minneapolis-based choreographer Uri Sands, closeness wasn't enough to keep the central couple together. Clothed in simple slacks, tops, and socks in nightshade colors – eggplants, browns, black – five dancers slid and tumbled, feet pointed, through the electronic forest and cyborg vocals of Bon Iver. From the silky flow surfaced Oren Porterfield, her braid whipping over her shoulders, and Kevin Murdock-Waters, monologuing an explanation while the group looked on. Relationships formed fluidly from the group, with partners making reflecting-pool shapes, one person a near-mirror of the other. But almost was not enough, evidently: In the end, Porterfield flatly walked offstage, leaving Murdock-Waters with his hands in the air.

Loss was just as central for the dismayed and marginalized community in the third work, Hart's "Fellow Travelers." A central sextet, in stylish 9-to-5-wear designed by Emily Cawood, and a walk-on (actually, run-on) group, in stagehand black, were situated in a purgatorial train station, evoked by lighting designer Steve Myers' grand arched windows and the group's periodic orientation toward a corner: an incoming train, which their pensive faces tracked as it passed. Beautifully musical, to orchestral compositions by John Adams and Bryce Dessner, the movement for the six dancers evoked a panicked brainstorming session: a surge of ideas tried out and tossed away quickly; a feeling of being boxed in. When the runners-on periodically swirled around them, the dancers were left reeling. At the end of the piece, the entire cast broke into a run, in place, until the music stopped. In silence, they caught their breath. Did the running help? At the least, they had tapped into the power of a body of people moving synchronously.

Given the contexts of brokenness offered in "Better Left Unsaid" and "Fellow Travelers," the fierce sense of optimism and duty in the middle dance on the program, Magdalena Jarkowiec's "Overseas Phone Call, 1987" was especially poignant. Inspired by the landline calls that Jarkowiec's family made to relatives in Socialist-era Poland when she was a child, the quartet depicted two sides thwarted by physical distance, culture, and perhaps even ideology in their desperate attempts, only somewhat successful but almost never hopeless, to communicate.

The dance was as quirky and emotionally generative as Jarkowiec's works in her other medium: soft-sculpture, in which she creates human forms with exaggerated, weird, and meticulously stitched features. The four dancers could have been Jarkowiec's family: Lisa Del Rosario as the grandmother in Poland, and Jarkowiec, Alexa Capareda, and Kelsey Oliver as mother and daughters, the Americanness of the children clear from their bouts of carefree silliness. They all wore underclothes, which they topped with oversized goldenrod-yellow felt vests, designed and crafted by Jarkowiec, when it was time to "talk" on the "phone": a long cord connecting Del Rosario's and Jarkowiec's waists. Facing away from each other, they rubbed their thighs, gearing up for the call as if they were actually going to swim across the Atlantic. With rarely successful attempts at matching each other's cadence and timing – always with their backs to each other, with the cord at full length – the two circled the stage, kicking and hopping, while Capareda and Oliver hovered close by (except when they escaped to a corner to goof off in their undershirts). Guided by the sounds of isolated instruments, ranging from bongos to trumpet to the whistling from The Andy Griffith Show theme song, the work was about the calls, but it wasn't just about the calls. It was about the dance of conversation, pre-digital-era distance, familiarity and remoteness, losses and gains. In "Overseas Phone Call," each family member was her own tangle of DNA, culture, aspirations, and experience.

Midsummer Offerings

AustinVentures StudioTheater
June 24

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Performa / Dance, Jennifer Hart, Magdalena Jarkowiec, Uri Sands, Oren Porterfield, Kevin Murdock-Waters, Lisa Del Rosario, Alexa Capareda, Kelsey Oliver, Emily Cawood, Steve Myers

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