Embarrassment of Riches--or Just Embarrassing?

The highs and lows of this year's Best Feet Forward Dance Fest

The Best Feet Forward (BFF) Festival began in 2002, as an opportunity for four modern dance companies to produce new work, and has since grown into a three-weekend experience featuring 26 artists combining for some 360 minutes of dance. Newcomers share a stage with veterans while members of Live Action Set haunt the lobby. Someone even receives an award; this year's "Stickin' with It" career achievement winner is Judith Howard. BFF is a sprawling, midwinter Fringe-Festival-style concept, but with such variety comes a dilution of quality, as demonstrated in this past weekend's Green, Blue, and Red shows (color-coding helps to keep the schedule straight).

In the Blue show, Perpich Center Arts High School students perform, with appropriate reverence, Tom Kanthak's "Night Light," a spare conversation between movement and calligraphic computer animation. They also lend gravitas to Mary Harding's "...Is of the Essence," a Paul Taylor-inspired meditation on the modern world. Howard's solo "Ophelia," in which she brilliantly summons the spirits of Miss Havisham, Nancy Spungen, and Hamlet's heroine, is a festival highlight, as is her "Suite Goodbye," featuring nearly a dozen female bodies tumbling toward a poignant conclusion (with some line dancing along the way). Also noteworthy is Megan Flood's thoughtful solo with guitarist Dean McGraw, and Debra Jinza Thayer's provocative "Birth of a Nation," a clever skewering of the nonsense that lies within political posturing. Her solo "Molecular Variations," however, fails to connect its vampy moments with quirky bug-hitting-a-zapper sounds and imagery.

The Best Feet Forward Festival showcases a whole lot of modern dancers, including one whose head is apparently stuck in a bucket.
Courtesy of the Southern Theater
The Best Feet Forward Festival showcases a whole lot of modern dancers, including one whose head is apparently stuck in a bucket.

Karen Sherman's absorbing "Missouri Compromise," the key work of the Red Show, summons a spare emotional and physical landscape where time moves deliberately, and seemingly innocuous conversations harbor hidden tensions. Both Sherman and Morgan Thorson move with fierce intention. The siren songs of Cynthia Stevens's performers in "Marian Leatherby's Mirror," from her site-specific work Leonora's Dream, demonstrate that the voice can be as fluid as the body. Matt Jenson continues his examination of myth and contemporary interpretation to varying degrees of success. Simpleton Narcissus and the lusty Satyr each get their due, but "No One Can Stop You," his solo depiction of Leda and the Swan, tries in vain to blend campy humor with the violence of the story's rape.

Vanessa Voskuil's "The Weight of Light," which concludes the Green Show, successfully places Megan Odell and Cade Holmseth in a Godot-like setting where they grapple with how to communicate like lovers instead of clowns. And Rosy Simas, also on the Green program, contributes her political statement with "Have Gun Will Shoot (Bonding and Defending)," which exposes the vapidity of today's pageant of patriotism through various uses of the American flag (yep, it touches the ground, and then some).

The Green and Red programs also include Penelope Freeh, Heidi Geier's Soft-Eyed Collaborations, Krista Langberg, and Three Dances, each of which offers distinctly feminine viewpoints in works that fall short in execution and ideational clarity. Freeh's "Before Words," a duet for two of the top ballet dancers in town, Stephanie Fellner and Sally Rousse, is about a pair of personalities struggling to become one, but the surplus of angular and broken movements weighs the performers down. Likewise Krista Langberg's "Mãte" creates a distinctly Ingmar Bergman-esque, end-of-the-world vibe for her dynamic cast but ultimately fails to communicate the logic behind her intriguing but ultimately baffling imagery. Three Dances (Brinsley Davis, Jamey Garner Leonard, and Suzanne Wiltgen) has a game personality, but save for the nifty trio "Weebles," its work has a manic and unfinished quality. Finally, Soft-Eyed Collaborations' "SongCycles: Take 1" is an overearnest piece that recalls a '70s-style feminist gathering. Sweet, but hopelessly dated.

 
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