Onstage: From Both Sides Now

Dancer and choreographer Diane Germaine celebrates beauty and its loss

John Burgess

Choreographer Diane Germaine's newest work, "Fallout" (featuring, L-R, Kim Horwedel and Jeri Deckard Gatch) takes place in an imagined future. It premieres this weekend at the College Hill Town Hall.

Face it: The world of modern dance is, like it or not, pretty esoteric to most. But sometimes when its subject matter interfaces with the grit of the real world, it couldn't seem more timely. Three works about how people interact with each other from choreographer Diane Germaine this weekend will give audiences something to think about.

"Violence is inherent in everybody, you know," Germaine says. "I think that some people are able to civilize it out. But everyone has that capability."

During the 2001 Cincinnati riots, at an artists' gathering to address the problems we were all having, Germaine sent dancer Michelle Bump onstage as a military partisan.

"She's proud of what she's doing, she's defending her country," Germaine explains. "But I think in all situations like that, once you are in the front line, other things kind of get into it. Fear, questioning what you are doing, weariness, even compassion for an enemy — when you see them dead, they are human beings."

Germaine has been a strong presence in Cincinnati's modern dance world. Without an established company (Contemporary Dance Theater, now exclusively a presenting organization, and Shawn Womack Dance Projects are long defunct), our town has made do for years with talented choreographers like Germaine who mostly work with pick-up companies and occasional performances.

Among these, Germaine has been prolific. A graduate of New York's Performing Arts High School when it was still on 46th Street, she danced with the Paul Sanasardo Company. Germaine now counts Cincinnati as her home base. A small, stylish, 50ish woman with a New York accent, she just keeps working.

What keeps her going? "It's just that I am, fundamentally, a trained dancer," she says. "It's just that being physical was always my way of expressing."

She tends to use the same dancers and, since 2000, has managed to get funding to present works like "Such a Landscape," "Dust," "Nighthawks" and "Didi, A Life." This weekend for three evenings Germaine's Dance Works project will present a selection of her works — "Such a Landscape," "Fallout" and "Playground."

The latter piece was made when Germaine lived in New York City. "It was funded by the National Endowment years ago," she says. She's never re-staged it locally because she lacked the dancers, who need to be "three strong guys. It requires nuance and timing but also a certain technical facility." Now she has them: she's chosen Jason Hatcher, Ron Houck and Todd Juengling.

"It's set in a kids' playground. It's a very city piece, a very New York piece. It's about the origins of violence in early competitiveness, and violence that you don't even know ... that you go for it."

Though "Playground" starts out playfully, things soon change. The physical competition gets an edge. The kids become territorial, then paranoid and suspicious about each other.

"You know, what is the next person gonna do or not gonna do," Germaine says. "There is a lot of physical movement, so those qualities and the early rhythms are very important throughout the piece."

"Such a Landscape," is a Germaine classic about a horrible event where finally all that's left of people and their culture is a bunch of old clothes.

"It's about loss. The loss of your country, the loss of your place, the loss of your environment, a relationship, someone in a war zone." The piece, redolent of Eastern Europe, uses music by Zygmunta Koniecz-nego and sung by Ewa Demarczyk and incorporates a trademark point-of-view moment at its conclusion. Jennifer Frank takes on the role, originated by Mickey Morgan in 2000, of a grieving figure among the debris of a lost civilization, who becomes a commentator on all that's gone before.

Germaine denies that her work is all shadow and no sunlight. "What's really become clear to me is that I am always presenting two sides at one time — what's beautiful and, at the same time, its loss."

In "Such a Landscape," she says, "There is a duet within a trio that is really beautiful. Whether my work is about a landscape of love or the loss of that, there's always (the hope for) a recovery of humanity." She adds that, even though the character of the commentator dies, "that's an important, beautiful moment. Yet the work is multi-layered: It's something that's beautiful, but also in the shadows."

Finally, her newest piece, "Fallout," takes place in the future. A very slow-motion group of explorers, dressed in white, move towards each other from a perimeter.

"When they sight each other, their first reaction is of interest," says Germaine, who adds that even though there's upcoming violence in the piece, things can get kind of funny. She's not completely worked out the ending, but it involves another artifact — a doll — being discovered by a survivor.

In all, 13 dancers will perform. Media is by Chris Roesing of RoesingApe. Lighting design is by Dennis Reed. Patrons of Contemporary Dance Theater's College Hill Town Hall will also experience brand new seats and risers, much needed additions to this cozy performance space.

DIANE GERMAINE DANCEWORKS presents an evening of choreography at the College Hill Town Hall on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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