The 2011 Fringe’s presentation of The Body Speaks: Movement, choreographed and directed by Kim Popa and Lindsey Jones of Pones Inc is a small gem. Presented in seven overlapping vignettes, each one inspired by one of seven photos by Sean Dean, this short work (45 minutes) is entirely self-contained, creating its own language and making a statement with it. It should be on your list of shows not to miss.
The program evokes elegance, mystery, ritual, occasional tenderness, charm and delicacy. This is a committed group of volunteer performers, not all of whom are dancers per se, proficient in their enactment of the linked “pedestrian” moves (steps tending toward ordinary movement rather than codified technique) typical in Pones presentations.
Thursday’s opening performance at the 1411 Vine Street venue was greeted with strong applause and whoops of approval by the audience. We were arrayed in folding chairs on three sides of the performing area, delineated by a small fabric border with many small stones. There is space built into the configuration on two sides for those who wish to sit on the floor in front of the chairs. Projections of Dunn’s photos (displayed briefly before and after the show on the third floor), among other images, are on view on one long wall in the space. Lighting is perfect, sufficient to illuminate the dancers and movements, without calling attention to itself.
Outrageous it isn’t. Many Fringe entries are designed to shock with the impact of the unexpected. Instead, The Body Speaks: Movement comes at you from a different direction. It gradually but thoroughly seduces you into its subtle aura using recorded Eastern-sounding musical selections with instruments like flute, bells, guitar, drums, occasional vocals and above all the precision and fluency of the choreography.
Five young women begin the program in silence, configuring themselves in a triangular form, sitting on their heels in a meditative pose with eyes shut. As the sound track begins, they gradually stand. Slowly, the whole cast joins them. All remain in the performing space for the duration, though sometimes they watch from the sidelines during solos, duets and trios. Heels are raised and lowered in ballet’s relevé, arms swing the dancers into turns in sequence. There are precise semaphoric arm moves with sharp elbows and body leans. One leg rebounds against the other, weight shifting to one hip. There are bent legs (passé, turned in and out) and pliés (bending at the knee).
Pace is sometimes sharp, sometimes flowing. There are undulations, walks, drop swings, dives and squats, moves to the floor and back up. The inspiration of the “calligraphic” nature of Dunn’s photos is very apparent in a two-dimensional aspect of some of the shapes. There are many isolations, wiggles, shoulder rolls and twitches (Ian Forsgren has a complex solo exhibiting many of these). The dancers create orientations to each of the four sides of the space, offering lines, diagonals, and sequences. Their gaze is inner-directed, but indicates clear intention.
One wonderful solo includes a kneeling dancer who folds red origami paper to make a bird shape, which she presents to an audience member. Another dancer, the standout Harper Lee, moves beautifully in an array of more “dancey” steps, including rolling on the floor. As her arms carve space, sometimes a sweet, mysterious smile crosses her face. There is a more forceful duet for two men and a segment in which a man briefly lifts and manipulates a woman. A ceremonial section offers two women kneeling in front of small bowls of water. At performance’s end, all the dancers form a circle facing each other, and then turn outwards to receive applause.
I’ve only touched on the variety of what happens throughout this piece. I recommend that you catch this performance, an unexpected oasis for me in my recently hectic life. I felt truly calmed and centered by experiencing it.