Watercolors: Caroline Palmer reviews ARENA's new dance


ARENA: waterBRIDGE Southern Theater, May 8-10 Review by Caroline Palmer

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Austrian symbolist and Art Nouveau painter Gustav Klimt caused a stir in Viennese society with his sensual, color-saturated paintings. Among his subjects were water sprites, supernatural creatures inhabiting an alternative yet strangely beautiful realm most notably free of human inhibition. Choreographer Mathew Janczewski draws upon Klimt’s fantastic imagery as inspiration for waterBRIDGE but he also offers up a more complex physical and emotional journey that should ring familiar with mere mortals. Janczewski has remounted this 2002 work for his ARENA Dances troupe and it will be performed this weekend at the Southern Theater.

The work begins with water, naturally – droplets captured close-up on film and projected onto a white background. The dancers, bathed in Jeff Bartlett’s morning-golden light, slowly engage the space, scouting their territory, hugging the walls, flexing their limbs and melting into one another’s bodies. Janczewski is well known for his inventive partnering and the evidence of his skill comes early during a recent dress rehearsal. The dancers seamlessly wind and unwind around each other’s bodies. They toss and flip one another, at times teasing the edges of a small pool on the far side of the stage with lifts that send partners back safely into waiting arms or tumbling in a controlled manner to the floor.

Hey, wait: that's not Gustav Klimt!

Key to the work is its changing moods and subtle, even slightly ominous references to a coming change. Scott Killian’s original score is rich and layered, alternating between melancholy and euphoria, hard-driving energy and minimalist sound. Midway through the work both the music and the dance seem to reference, just slightly, The Rite of Spring, the 1913 Sergei Diaghilev ballet set to a composition by Igor Stravinsky. These seminal works signaled a seismic shift toward modernism and away from classicism in the arts and idealized pastoral life; Janczewski and Killian capture a similar sense of progress and change, albeit one that is also tinged with a longing for what’s compromised and left behind.

ARENA’s dancers – Gabriel Anderson, John Beasant III, Heather Klopchin, Stephanie Laager and Stephen Schroeder – are fearless movers who consistently find ways to inject warmth, dynamic flow, and dramatic tension into the challenging choreography. Klopchin is the featured performer and she transitions through several states – an innocent, a siren, a lover, an earth mother – while maintaining a compelling sense of control and grace. Along with Klopchin, the troupe functions as a tight unit, alternately conveying playfulness, aggression, hunger, loneliness, optimism and calm. In the final moments they stand together at the pool and gingerly step into it. They sigh in relief as their well-worked feet enter the cool water. -- Caroline Palmer

$18. Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls.; 612.340.1725;