Review: 'Reaper'

This FringeNext production tells a simple story with gripping imagery and iconography.

Dance is all about communicating through physical movement. In that way it has to go for big, broad themes and ideas or it will get bogged down in contradictory purposes. Reaper, a FringeNext production by the Blackbird Dance Theatre group from Lexington, Kentucky, tells a simple story with gripping imagery and iconography. But at times it fails to communicate its ideas.

Blackbird’s original dance concert is a family-friendly show about facing fears. In many ways it is also a tribute to the group’s hometown. Set in Lexington in 1968, the show was written by a local high school student; it features music from Lexington artists, has student-led production design and student choreography. The cast is composed of students from central Kentucky. It is meant to promote collaboration and creativity.

Playwright and director Carson Hardee portrays Michael, the only male in the show. Six female dancers flank him; Helena Schatzki as Erin and Abby Hendren as Angela have prominent speaking parts. The plot seems to be about a 1968 curfew for children in Lexington because someone or something in the woods is snatching them up. Michael is in love with Erin but afraid to admit it; Angela encourages him. But after a walk home that is filled with the passion of first love, Erin disappears. A search party is put together, and after a week Michael and Angela decide to go into the woods to look on their own. There are trials and tribulations, and then possibly a twist at the end.

The dancing is beautiful. These are talented young people, and there’s an infectious energy to their performance. One particular element of Michael shouldering Erin’s weight during their dance together was especially striking. Flashlights in the dark make for an immediately arresting tableau (subsequently the cover photo for the playbill). 

But being set in 1968 doesn’t pay off and, in fact, serves to confuse the ideas at play. The cast is dressed in old-fashioned clothing, and there’s a dance at the beginning that harkens to the time, but for the most part it’s contemporary dancing with contemporary music. There’s an assembly of R&B and rock sounds, creating a wall of ambient noise that amps up the creep factor. But what does this have to do with the ’60s? If the twist at the end re-contextualizes everything, what does the contrast between the anachronisms and 50 years ago say about Michael as a character? 

At 30 minutes, however, the show is breezy and engaging to watch. The performers of Blackbird Dance Theatre flow well together and certainly have a bright future. 

The CINCINNATI FRINGE FESTIVAL continues through June 11. Find CityBeat reviews of 41 early performances here. For a full schedule and more info about Fringe,

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