Review: Circling The Line by Uprooted Dance
by Rachael Appold
To say that Uprooted Dance Company’s premiere of Circling The Line was a quirky multimedia masterpiece would be an understatement. Audiences witnessed 3D movement mingled with 2D printing. The work made its debut on April 14, 2017 at the beautiful Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center. The night featured four pieces choreographed by Uprooted Dance’s Artistic Director, Keira Hart-Mendoza, in collaboration with her dancers. Printmaker Susan Goldman created prints that acted as scenery, props, and even costumes for the dancers. Such a unique collaboration was delightful to witness.
Walking into the theatre, I noticed pink dresses washi-taped to the large folding divider that surrounded the audience seating. The dresses were covered in geometric designs and were hung at different levels along the divider. I wondered if the dresses were a decoration for Uprooted Dance’s performance or an art exhibit from a Montgomery College student. My question was answered at the beginning of the second act.
The stage floor was covered in an array of multi-colored circles in different sizes for the first piece, Targets. A small, colorful folding divider stood in the upstage area. As the lights dimmed, Uprooted dancer Katie Sopoci Drake entered from stage left. She donned a yellow leotard and horizontally-striped skirt. Her costume seemed to mimic the targets on the stage. The lights went up, and Drake began running forward and backward around one upstage target while executing circular, contemporary movement.
Drake continued dancing as the other dancers joined her, one at a time. They executed the same running and circular movement as an intricate piano composition by Nils Fram and Yann Tiersen played. At one point, the dancers paired up, holding hands and running around in circles while in a diagonal formation. There were five dancers on stage, and each dancer would take turns running from the front of the diagonal to the back to join the most upstage couple. This would cause one dancer from each pairing to shift to the couple in front of them, switching off in a do-si-do fashion.
Such a sequence already appeared difficult enough, as the switching took place while the dancers were running, but to make matters even more complicated, the dancers transitioned from running around in circles while holding hands to rolling onto the floor while holding hands. While this was taking place, the dancers never once released their grasps. I was thoroughly impressed by their ability to execute such a difficult sequence.
The decision to play with the concept of circles was immediately apparent and continuous throughout the entire piece. Every part of the work embodied the circle, including the individual movements, partner work, set design, and even the music, which had a circular rhythm. The piece ended with Drake running in a circle alone on stage, eventually exiting her spiral and dashing off stage right. The continuity of the circle helped to drill the concept without becoming tiring to watch. In fact, I believe that if the dancers had completed a linear phrase for even an eight-count, the concept would have been lost.
The second piece, Tableau, featured a change of scenery. A large vintage rug sat on the stage floor while a projection screen stood behind it. Another vintage rug was cast onto the screen from a projector. Two dancers, Carolyn Hoehner and Amanda Blythe, sat on the rug with their feet tucked beneath them. Two more dancers, Katie Harris Banks and Caroline Barna, sat in the same position in the upstage left corner of the rug. Katie Sopoci Drake sat in the upstage right corner.
Blythe and Hoehner initiated the piece by performing a series of technical partnering sequences which were as intricate as the rug beneath them. Their long, technical phrases acted as transitions to different lounging positions. Hoehner and Blythe would execute one sequence before lying next to each other on their bellies with their chins resting in their hands. Another sequence would be completed ending with the pair settled into a crouching position.
Drake joined Hoehner and Blythe as their phrase work began again, turning their duet into a trio. I was astounded by how easily the movement was able to fit three people after first being done by two. As the phrase work repeated for a third time, Banks and Barna joined the trio. Instead of completing the same movements, they acted as assistants for the three women. One dancer would lift Hoehner’s leg in arabesque as another steadied Blythe’s arm, for example.
All five dancers eventually melted into different phrases and partner work which featured more technique and rolling sequences. The quirky, light essence with which the dancers moved, combined with the vintage rug, created a nostalgic atmosphere. I felt as though I was watching five children playing on an old rug, lounging on each other every so often. I do wish that Hart-Mendoza had found a way to fully incorporate the rug projection behind the dancers, as it did not seem to help or hurt the piece. Nonetheless, the vibes emitted from Tableau were lovely and warm.
The second act took off with Paper Dolls, a piece that used Susan Goldman’s prints as costumes. A soft, orange dress on a hanger had been suspended from one of the theatre rafters during intermission. Five dancers stood in a horizontal line across the upstage, donning dresses made out of paper. Then, a series of awkward sounds took place. The dancers let out a wide array of vocal sounds as they executed choppy, robotic movements. Their vocals were onomatopoeic, featuring schluuurps, shhhhs, beeeeeps, and boops, and evoked laughter from the audience.
Their sounds and movements quickly turned suggestive; the dancers let out moans and flirtatious laughter. They spanked their own backsides in a canon, squealing “Ooohh!” in reaction. They even held their pointed index fingers next to their breasts and vocalized a shwing! sound. Many of their movements and sound effects were performed in a canon; one dancer would giggle to the dancer next to her, sending a feminine, over-the-top laugh down the line.
The audience continued to laugh quietly as this section of the piece continued. Such provocative sound effects uttered boldly on stage are bound to cause some discomfort. But it was the awkwardness of it all that made this section so perfect. The Uprooted dancers accomplished a difficult task: they appeared to make the audience feel something. Doing so is a great accomplishment, even if the feeling being evoked is unease.
It seemed to me that the dancers’ sound effects and mechanical movements were caricatures of
what society deems to be feminine. The stiff paper dresses that the dancers wore drove this idea home. The part which drilled the concept of over-the-top, forced femininity for me was the spanking; the first time the dancers spanked themselves, they let out a moan of pleasure. The second time the spanking made an appearance, the dancers moaned in a forced, less enthusiastic manner.
This section ended with four of the five dancers in their original horizontal line, facing the upstage. The fifth dancer stood downstage right, facing the audience and giggling. Her chuckle picked up, morphing into a loud, crazed laughter that almost brought her to her knees. At the last moment, her laughter seemed to dissipate into hysterical crying.
The dancer stood there, weeping until the dress that had been hanging from one of the theatre rafters dropped to her eye-level. She approached the dress and touched its fabric before taking off her own paper dress to reveal a nude leotard. The orange cotton dress on the hanger was soft and flowing. When she gently pulled the garment off the hanger and pulled it over her head, it hung loosely around her body. Pleasantly surprised by her newfound comfort, the dancer wiggled and stretched as the other dancers were presented with cotton dresses of their own. Each dancer stripped from their paper dresses and donned their new comfortable garments. They tested their comfort by twisting and turning before rejoining their horizontal line.
This was the beginning of the second section of Paper Dolls. Violin music played as the dancers completed fluid movement. They seemed to develop a greater awareness of each other as characters during this section. They often linked arms and skipped around the stage in circles. It seems to me that this sudden change in movement and costuming signified the act of breaking free from the strict guidelines society has for women. Swapping out stiff paper clothing for soft, breathable fabric was so simple, yet so effective, in pushing this concept.
It is important to note that the dancers no longer provided their own sound effects. Music was played for them, which I believed to be one of the most freeing aspects of this section. Filling the theatre with onomatopoeia without the use of microphones is an obvious strain on the voice. Even if it was not intentional, there is a lesson to be learned by watching a group of women free themselves from any type of strain.
The last piece of the evening was Original Multiples and Layered Systems. This work featured all five dancers dress in white pants and shirts covered with neon green, pink, and yellow designs. Although I liked the clean appearance of the costumes, I wished the designs on their shirts had been more visible from the audience. The piece began with one dancer standing centerstage, executing a fluid movement sequence as the other dancers took turns entering from stage right and left. As the dancers crossed paths, they did not interact with each other. Their liquid movement combined with their clean white costumes and lack of interaction made them look like clouds floating past.
Like Paper Dolls, Original Multiples and Layered Systems used canons as a motif. I noticed that each dancer completed the same short phrase at different times. The dancers did not only execute typical “down-the-line” canons, however. Some sequences involved one dancer completing a phrase on stage before the other dancers entered one at a time to perform the same phrase. I applaud Keora Hart-Mendoza’s creativity in twisting and stretching this common choreographic tool.
Original Multiples and Layered Systems ended with the dancers standing in a vertical line on stage left. The women filed around the line, with the person at the front continuously stepping to the back of the line. The dancers eventually filed off the stage, leaving one dancer, Amanda Blythe behind. Ms. Blythe stood there, staring at the audience in a moment of stillness and silence. She created an ending built on an audience interaction without breaking the fourth wall. Such an act was thought-provoking.
Uprooted Dance combined 2D art with contemporary movement to provide a unique evening for their audiences. The execution of their concepts, especially within Paper Dolls was simple enough to be understood and creative enough to provide continuous entertainment. Uprooted Dance was founded by Keira Hart-Mendoza in Charlottesville, Virginia in December 2007. In 2009, the company decided to move to the D.C. area. As is the case with Circling The Line, Hart-Mendoza collaborates with artists across all mediums to create well-rounded works for her company. Uprooted has previously collaborated with percussionist Mark H. Rooney, violinist David Schulman, and video designer David Dowling.