The tiny honeybee is essential to our food production and ultimately to the survival of our world. This year, PSOPHONIA Dance Company and AURA Contemporary Ensemble from Houston make their Cincinnati Fringe debut with Colony, a “thoroughly intertwined performance of music and dance” exploring this threatened keystone species.
Organized into movements such as “Queen,” “Pollination” and “Collapse,” Colony breaks down the honeybee’s life cycle, exploring each stage through choreography (by Sophia Torres) and contemporary music from composers such as Philippe Leroux and Nicholas Scherzinger. The nine-member AURA Contemporary Ensemble, directed by Rob Smith, performs the music adroitly, and not from an orchestra pit; the ensemble is an active part of the staging, with musicians often roving through the action and adding instrumental commentary. PSOPHONIA Dance Company provides the physical interpretation of the honeybees in an hour of physically demanding vignettes.
There are movements during which the energy wanes. For instance, “Pollination” begins with more than four minutes of a tulip opening without much more to see. More riveting are scenes including the frenetic “Bee Work,” an athletic number bolstered by Marc Mellits’s sax- and marimba-filled score (saxophone by Ellie Parker, percussion by Paul Kasperitis), and “Waggle Dance,” which plays with the jig that bees perform to direct their hive mates to the best nectar.
Peppered throughout the movements are staggering facts about the honeybees, some of which illuminate our dependence upon the insects, others of which educate about the bees’ complex systems and rituals.
“It takes honeybees 10 million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey,” for instance; or, “In winter, honeybee workers feed on honey for energy, and keep the Queen and her eggs warm by clustering around them and ‘shivering’ — vibrating their flight muscles while keeping their wings still.” (PSOPHONIA interprets this fact in “Huddle,” another stand-out movement.) Colony blends these facts, figures and testimonies with music and movement to build their case, one which ends on a somber note: We must take action, and soon.
Because all of this year’s Fringe productions must inevitably be viewed through the lens of the current pandemic, it can feel shocking to see such flagrant physical contact between the dancers, the film having been shot pre-COVID 19. Seen another way, perhaps it tells a story that the artists themselves didn’t intend: that the “pause” that human industry has been forced to take might allow species such as the honeybee to rebuild their own.
The 17th annual all-digital Cincinnati Fringe Festival runs through June 13. Get tickets and show info at cincyfringe.com.