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Rochester Fringe Festival Day 2: "Spirits Within" and Present Tense Dance reviews

City's dance writer shares her thoughts on an evocative collaboration and some inspiring dance



Apparitions of light, sound, and movement filled Christ Church with moments of gravity Thursday night as FuturPointe Dance, led by Artistic Director Guy Thorne, performed "Spirits Within" to the chilling organ music of Stephen Kennedy, music director of Christ Church and professor of sacred music at the Eastman School of Music. Visuals projected on to the organ pipes by Marla Schweppe -- director of visualization at the College of Imaging Arts and Science at Rochester Institute of Technology -- completed the sensorial triptych with a powerful display of cascading colors and images. FuturPointe and Kennedy created the evening's work within a framework of structured improvisation. Schweppe, too, selected her images in response to the mood being expressed in the piece.

It was uniquely moving to sit in the hushed darkness of this gorgeous church and witness the dancers appearing, wraithlike, at the far end of the sanctuary, the fanciful sheen of colorful projections shimmering on the pipes of the massive organ above them, its sonorous voice seemingly calling up these unworldly creatures from the bowels of the building. As I watched the dancers materialize one by one, I flashed back to the awed anticipation I felt as a small child in a dark planetarium when the massive projector, previously blotted out in complete darkness, mysteriously ascended from I-knew-not-where.

Among the dancers, N'jelle Gage stood out. Her very slight body was like a tuning fork set aquiver, responding with lithe and joyful movement to the swells of music, casting a spell of solemn sensuality. (NOTE: "Spirits Within" also takes place at Christ Church Friday, September 21, 8-9 p.m. and 9-9:30 p.m., and Saturday, September 22, 8-8:30 p.m. Tickets cost $10.)

Earlier in the evening, in a much more brightly lit practice studio inside the Eastman School of Music, audience members filled the folding chairs and stood against the back wall to see Present Tense Dance perform a handful of contemporary pieces to live music. I was especially taken with the humor and freshness of "Magnum Opus," a 2011 work choreographed by Artistic Director Anne Harris Wilcox and set to the music of Rossini. This comical piece featured three dancers portraying writers through physical expression of the sometimes (O.K., often) agonizing struggle to get works down onto paper. Some clever use of props, like the unwieldy human-sized pencils the dancers leapt about with at one point, brought some hearty chuckles from the audience. I liked the grand arrival of long scrolls of paper fluttered in by smiling "muses" dressed in flowing white costumes.

The premiere of Wilcox's "The Crossing" was less satisfying, lacking, I felt, in fresh vision. Soloist Kathy Diehl was more than efficient in executing the choreography, but her part seemed to go on too long, and was a bit cloying in sentiment. I found myself averting my eyes from her beseeching heaven-bound gaze and was relieved when the ensemble came out to join her. "Veritas," another Wilcox premiere, had more bite to it. In fact, it began with one dancer viciously dousing another in the face with a full glass of water. This work featured lots of angular, flailing, and sharp push-and-pull movements. Its antagonistic mode made for interesting viewing and the staccato, strident music of Robert Een's "Breakdown Eleven" provided its perfect counterpart. The audience loved it.

The breakout performance of the evening, however, was the loose-limbed loveliness of five men dancing Edward J. Murphy's "Our Fearful Journey is Done" to music performed by the Golden Gate Gospel Quartet. The men seemed to move effortlessly together with impeccable rhythm, their movements expanding to all corners of the room. Following a theme of redemption, the unleashing of physicality came to a powerful crescendo with heady leaps, acrobatic feats, and shimmying celebration. Nice work by Marcus Bowens, Andrew Evan O'Brien, Travis Walker, Malcolm Dash, and Shawn Powell.

On Friday night I'll be checking out PUSH Physical Theatre at the TheaterROCS stage at Xerox Auditorium. Where will you be heading?

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