Revolve Dance Company Premieres Work, Solves Staging Challenges in Nexus

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Photo by David Bullanday Photography
The Setup
On November 9 and 10, Revolve Dance Company takes over Barnevelder Theater to present its fall concert Nexus, a collection of new pieces imagined by a variety of choreographers, including its co-directors and founding members.

The Execution
The pieces comprising Nexus were an eclectic bunch, spanning a variety of genres and themes. While they did not deliberately share a narrative, these pieces aligned themselves in order of increasing sophistication in movement quality and staging.

The first piece, "Let's Go for a Ride," was energetic on the surface, as women in brightly colored flapper dresses took turns seducing (man)nequins on roller skates to the tune of a pop song laced with Andrews Sisters riffs. Beyond its novelty, however, it felt somewhat underdeveloped. The movement held extremely tightly to the music, feeling more like a direct translation than an interpretation. Orders of solos and movement phrases became quickly predictable, and the dancers threw a number of smiles at the audience which, while cute at first, came across as needy by the end of the piece.

An issue that arose in "Ride" and also in the third piece, "Sound of Silence," was the sheer number of dancers on stage. It should be noted that managing 12 dancers on stage in an intimate venue is no small feat. If there is no focal point, unison movement can look very blurry, and if spacings are not exaggerated, the density of dancers on stage can appear to remain the same throughout the piece. In both of these works, there were times when the movement and staging may have been crisper on three or four dancers instead of a dozen.

That said, there are also incredibly powerful and sophisticated ways to use 12 dancers on stage, and these are what Revolve spent the last two-thirds of the show exploring to remarkable ends.

Evidence of this first arose in "Sound of Silence," when co-director Amy Cain had her dancers, hunched over in two upstage lines, flinch one at a time. Against the collective stillness, their small movements were incredibly dramatic. More came from Dawn and Matt Dippel in "Bloodstream," in which small groups of dancers constantly entered and exited, keeping the stage from appearing crowded while creating the illusion that there were more than twelve dancers present.

This piece also had the dancers bunched together tightly, which lent wonderful contrast to the times when the dancers spread to fill the stage. In this tight arrangement, the group moved like an amoeba -- a few dancers crossing the stage would prompt the others to follow. The end of the piece had the group reabsorbing a lost member, falling to the floor like dominoes in slow-motion.

One of the most striking uses of this large number of dancers came in "Lady Hope," choreographed by Amy Cain, featuring magnificent solo work by Dawn Dippel, and telling the story of Aung San Suu Kyi, a Burmese opposition politician and Nobel Laureate held in house arrest. The piece led Dippel into a large square of light, where she alternated from lying down, to sitting cross-legged, to rising and bounding along the sides of the square. Each time she rose, a small group of dancers would enter in the darkness and stand still outside of the square while soft light illuminated their attention to Dawn. This living backdrop changed in position and number, simultaneously describing the vast admiration held for Suu Kyi and the futility of her confinement.

Nexus also featured a guest performance by Ad Deum Dance Company. While a bit overshadowed by the momentum that Revolve had built in the second act, it was certainly pleasant, with especially strong movement from Shizu Yasuda and a beautiful final moment as the group, huddled in a circle, took a breath together in silence.

Other memorable moments scattered themselves throughout the show. "Angsters," a sharp and sassy quartet set to heavy rhythms, had two men scooting themselves across the floor on their backs by flinging their appendages into the air. This abandonment of technique, rare in the first half of the show, lent the dancers humanity. The duet "Water" featured a number of beautiful lifts, one of which had a woman inverted with her legs scissored in the air, suspended for a tense moment before sharply flexing her feet and bending her knees. The lighting design by David J. Deveau created a stirring image at the end of "Lady Hope," when the twelve dancers stood centerstage, lifting roses to the sky, with only their torsos and flowers illuminated as it faded to black.

The Verdict
While the first few pieces lacked complete sophistication, the rest of the show displayed admirable depth and creativity. The size of the company at first encumbered the works but later amplified their images and emotions, while the dancers' overstressed smiles gave way to soft, confident focus. By the end of the show, the dancers sprinted across stage with complete abandon, as thought they had broken out of the chains of unison double pirouettes present at the beginning of the show. Nexus may not have been flawless, but over the course of the evening, Revolve found their way to a grace and freedom for which all dance companies should aspire.

See Revolve Dance Company's Nexus at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 10 at Barnevelder Theater, 2201 Preston.

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