REVIEW: DanceArtTheater “Cafe 53” at Fredgren Studio Theater

REVIEW: DanceArtTheater Cafe 53 at Fredgren Studio Theater
by Raquel Lake

Every artist uses their medium to deliver a message or make a statement in their own signature way. It can be about who they are or how they view the world around them. These notions kept coming to mind while I watched DanceArtTheater’s presentation of Cafe 53. The night’s performances by host DanceArtTheater and guest companies Errant Movement and fusiondance featured signature movements from each company’s core repertoire. They showed who they are as statement makers and as conveyors of their messages through dance. The one-hour show was packed with captivating imagery, thought-provoking messages, and meticulous choreography.

The first company of the night was Errant Movement. They performed a piece entitled Please Stay Seated, choreographed by artistic director Rachel Turner. Errant Movement always delivers a performance with quality movements that feature impeccable timing and robotic movements mixed with thoughtful fluidity. Last night was no different. Their movements evidenced lines, angles, and dimensions. The message of the piece was to examine our relationships with each other. How do we define our uniqueness while still being a part of the whole?

Having all dancers begin seated and wearing the same grey shirt with black leggings was our first clue into the idea of sameness. The movements that they performed at the same time, or within staggered intervals, fully demonstrated the idea of being one. Arms lifted to ninety degree angles and hands clapped to the dancer’s legs as they sat beside each other. All of these movements were elements in a story about our bonds and our connections. Dancers moved chairs and created shapes that left you wondering how they would get out of them. They stood on chairs while the others watched. We took in the graceful arms and long legs. Dancers moved on the floor and came back together sitting in a row at the end of the first section.

Next, the five seated dancers were joined by a sixth dancer dressed in an orange top with black leggings. Her appearance signified change. The change caused dancers to transform. Some were helped out of their shirts and others did it on their own. The last dancer was bullied until she too revealed her new self. In the end, we were presented with the rainbow of dancers (red, blue, yellow, purple, turquoise and orange), who represented individuals still part of the whole. Seeing unity within these politically divisive times was a welcome message.

The second piece of the night was Fractals performed by DanceArtTheater. The piece was choreographed by their director, Meredith Barnes. Fractals are a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. They have similar patterns that recur at smaller scales. Movement mixed with science and nature made a profound statement.

The piece started with a lone dancer on a bench who was soon joined by others. As each dancer of the fractal got into place, I felt as if I was looking through a microscope where I saw a moving dancer, instead of a geometric form. Repetition of movements, leaps, and spins had us all imagining what the larger picture was. The individual leaps that sprung forth from the curving form of the other dancers revealed more of the picture. They looked like dandelion seeds being blown about in the wind. The repetition added to the growing fractal until we returned to the beginning, with the seated dancer waiting to begin again. In my opinion, the message was that the beauty of the world is found in the littlest things.

The last piece of Act I was performed by the spectacular fusiondance. Their piece, entitled Migration, was choreographed by Candra Preshong, who also performed. If you have ever seen a performance by this company, then you know their style is all about poised strength, grace, and lifts. If you have not had the pleasure of seeing fusiondance perform, I highly recommend that you do.

In this piece, we watched dancers become birds in flight. It started with dancers moving across the floor in various ways. One acrobatically skilled dancer swam across the floor with articulated movements. Her head pushed down while her leg lifted off the ground. In the background two dancers guided one another with care. Then, as if there wasn’t enough to take in, there were the lifts. A dancer dressed in black acted as a ladder, while her partner climbed, or sometimes leapt, onto her back. Toes rested on backs, and knees rested on shoulders. This gave the illusion that winged birds were born. Their stamina was extraordinary. All this was performed with organic showmanship. They truly made you feel like you were watching beautiful birds flying to a new home high in the sky.

After the brief intermission, Cafe 53 was opened for business. In Cafe 53, DanceArtTheater performed six scenes taking place at cafe set. The audience got to people watch as the cast went about their lives working, passing by, or sitting at tables at the cafe.

One particularly interesting scene from this section was danced to the song “Mini Skirt” by Juan Garcia Esquivel. A dancer in a mini skirt entered walking with attitude. She was joined by other dancers, each outfitted with different articles of clothing. This piece was more about using movement as a platform to make a statement and deliver a message. The dancers would yell out statements as they swapped articles of clothing and tried to cover themselves in a way pleasing to the invisible whistler. They yelled out, “seriously, better?”, “please stop looking,” and “it doesn’t matter what you wear.” The message was: don’t objectify me.

The other scenes of Cafe 53 all featured beautifully told stories about the good and the bad of relationships. Cafe 53 closed with all dancers from the three performing companies taking to the stage to interact and take final bows.

Throughout the show, there seemed to be a lack of attention to presentation, which took away from the entirety of the production. There were a few awkward moments after performances when, because it was not apparent when a dance ended another one began. The audience hesitantly clapped when they were not sure if it was the right time to do so.

Cafe 53 was a show that had many great performances that exemplified the best of the companies and the dancers involved. Each dancer that took to the stage showed tremendous skill, poise, grace, and stamina. They delivered thoughtful and exquisite performances. With more attention paid to all the elements of the show, Cafe 53 is worth visiting when it opens again.