Jeanne MamLuft is a brainy director and accomplished choreographer (and filmmaker), and it shows. Latitude, at the Hanke 1 performance space on Main Street, gives MamLuft & Co. Dance the latitude, or room for maneuver, if you will, to present modern dance in a fresh way. Since the concept is billed as an exploration of themes of change and place, that’s another way to think of it.
Dance fans will no doubt appreciate the work for the virtuosity and variety, but since each of two separate segments takes up a little less than a half hour, it’s very approachable for the dance-challenged, who may be surprised to find themselves having a good time experiencing a combination of site-specific dance-on-camera and live action dancing onstage. Choreography is by MamLuft and company member Susan Honer as well as the 10 performers. Film is by MamLuft and Honer.
Arriving a little before 7:15 pm (the announced curtain), I saw a pre-show warm-up, which is something you might want to plan to see. Upon entering the venue, a large open room with high ceilings, exposed ductwork and a long bar from a previous manifestation as features, I was welcomed and told that in the space before me a warm-up for the program was in progress. Sure enough, Clint Fisher, Ashley Powell, Emily Scott and Nicole Suzel, dressed in everyday shirts, sneaker and Levis, moved in silence, in ways that the audience members so far were both aware of and ignoring. Not to be outdone, the dancers also acted as though no one else was in the space. Indeed, they moved as if they were mostly unaware of each other, employing a middle-distance stare.
Clad in everyday outfits of shirts, pants and sneakers, they also moved in ordinary ways, which became formalized by repetition or execution in unison. Sometimes they tumbled on and around each other with the technique of “contact improvisation,” a weight-sharing style. They moved their weight into the floor and vaulted against each other. They executed reaches, spirals and suspensions. They approached each other in seemingly random encounters, which might or might not evolve into movement phrases. At one point they walked on top of the bar along the side of the space. Soon, they were jogging in a circle and then they moved to the rear of the large space, where the audience gathered to be seated in front of an elevated stage.
The dancers disappeared, and a projected film at the rear of the stage began. Throughout the work, recorded music cued in and out. In local settings, the dancers were filmed doing the same sorts of movements. They walked along railroad tracks, as the camera focused on their feet. They traversed towards and away from the camera on an Ohio River bridge catwalk. They walked on ledges in an urban setting, up and down stairs, and vaulted up one-by-one on a loading dock, in the style of parcours. Soon, live dancers began interacting onstage with the filmed version of themselves — all very Fringy, and for me, quite lovely in its expression of pure physicality.
The second half of the show carried a little more baggage, not always to its advantage. With the same combination of film and live dance, the playbill indicated it was a celebration dedicated to the memory of Micah Warren, titled “Milkweed (Micah’s Return).” Also in the playbill were longish quotes, one evoking the return of Monarch butterflies on the Mexican “Day of the Dead.” Text was by Eric Alger. Dancers were Colleen Byrne, Rebecca Fleisher, Susan Honer, Mindy Nagel, Elena Rodriguez and Mandy Milligan. One interesting repeated filmed segment had a dancer hanging from a tree limb before dropping to the ground. Subsequently, the film manipulated the image over and over, finally so that the dancer appeared to be jumping up rather than falling. Interesting stuff.