REVIEW: “Blue Mountain Express” and “Women’s Work” by alight dance theatre at Dance Place

from the DC Dance Journalism Project

alight dance theater presents Blue Mountain Express and Women’s Work at Dance Place

Review by Taryn Brown

Sounds of sniffles, stifled crying, and genuine empathy filled the raked audience at Dance Place in DC this past weekend. The source of these emotional reactions was Angella Foster’s ambitiously elongated dance, Women’s Work, in which Foster directed, choreographed, wrote narration for, and performed in magnificently. The piece did its duty within the context of live dance performance; it entertained with strong and stable performers, it told a story with movement and narration as the structural guideline, and it provided heartfelt honesty for spectators to inundate themselves within.

alight-dance-theater-at-dance-place-img_0920As the prominent piece on the evening’s split ticket, Women’s Work evidenced a stunning, homely minimalist stage set, with a suspended quilt hanging stage right, a large box of dirt, a rocking chair, and eggs on square nests. Danced with a mix of obstructed group footwork behind the quilt, mimetic acting scenes and powerful unison movement commenced as well as action-based dramatic sequences and straight-up technical contemporary dance. The work represented the beauty and awesomeness that highly realized Tanztheater can provide and provoke.

Choreographic motifs included spirals, hops, twists, extensions, and reaches. The overall style was elegant while the majority of the effort seemed mostly gentle. There was, however, contrast to these qualities during sections of brief animosity between characters, as well as, throughout the ending section where the performers worked to “wash away the darkness that clings,” (as explained by the narrator).

While not as much of story, but more a situation, the other work in alight’s Dance Place show was Blue Mountain Express by Eleni Grove and Matina Phillips. Done as a series of several vignettes, the dance blended modern and contemporary dance vocabulary, elements of dance theater, balletic narrative structure, and mass appeal. The dance was performed as a female quartet to a series of several musical pieces, which featured string-based instruments, piano, folk music, Latin music, and train sounds. As expected with a lineup of such audio, the dance traveled on either a literal or metaphorical train through what seemed to be different landscapes and times of day. The performers went though lullabies and character studies with a completely thorough relationship to their props, which consisted of suitcases and chairs. With sublime precision and accuracy they constantly shifted their spatial surroundings in interesting geometrical patterns.

The lighting for Blue Mountain Express combined with the video projection amped up the design in a way that punched up the visuals quite often. The most memorable and striking images were when the dancers were lined up in a row showing us their profile while a projection of what they were passing out of the fictitious window rolled by. Unfortunately the image never lasted as long as it could have, as the fast-paced dancers seemed to almost need to get back into the dance so that the music would not leave them behind. Perhaps that was by choice, as if they were bound to the train and had to obey it’s calling? Or was it intentional to make the work tightly conformed between dance and music in order to evince a less emotional and more commercial feeling?

As learned from the opening speech by alight’s Executive Director, Mike Phillips, the company is undergoing a transition. Angella Foster will be handing over the reins to Matina Phillips in November 2016. It’s clear that both women have the vision and drive to create narratively-based choreography with strong dancers and highly skilled designers. This two-piece show evidenced that alight dance theater has a lot of talent in its midst. Now it will be up to Ms. Phillips to, as the program said of alight’s mission, “give voice to the stories which are concealed, hidden, or neglected in our day-to-day lives.”