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Casey reviews Biodance and "Diaghilesque"



All of Rochester could have been lit by the energy Biodance exuded at GEVA's Nextstage last night. The show reminded me of a collection of excellent short stories. Each unique piece vibrant and well-worked out -- good enough to stand alone, but even better as a group.

Missy Pfohl Smith, Artistic Director of Biodance, seems to attract all kinds of dancers and choreographers from Rochester and beyond to contribute to her projects. Along with Smith, this one also includes choreography from Heidi Latksy, Bill Evans, Ivy Baldwin, Jeanne Schickler Compisi, Eran Hanlon, and Courtney World.

Several of the pieces -- especially "Trapped at Tea," choreographed by Compisi and Baldwin, and "Borderline," choreographed by World -- operated at almost frantic levels. The first featured Compisi and Smith at some sort of mad tea party. Enclosed in a stage-wide ring of plastic forks, spoons and knives, the two began next to each other sipping angrily out of tea cups. More dance theater than pure dance, the two began throwing cups, leaping onto the furniture, and, finally raining plastic utensils down at each other. Makes you wonder what's supposed to be in that tea; I would have brought in a cup myself if I'd known. In any case, the choppy, truncated movement well-expressed a state of anxiety yet with plenty of humor thrown in. 

"Borderline" was even more tumultuous. Performed by Laura M. Regna, I'm guessing the piece is about the horrific pushing and pulling you must experience if you have borderline personality disorder. Regna moved as if possessed, flailing her limbs and jerking backwards and forwards in a somewhat-marionette fashion. Regna is a lovely dancer and was able to maintain clean lines and a strong flow of movement in spite of the manic energy trying to control her.

"Coaptation" was different from any of Hanlon's work I've seen so far. Faster and with more blatant outward energy, yet with a characteristic eerily beautiful quality, it featured dancers Compisi, Kathy Diehl, and Julie Schlafer Rossette as sweat-shirted, aggressively-moving women who seem distressed over something -- perhaps, even hunted. I found the movement to have something of a martial arts type feel, yet there are respites of poignancy as well, for instance in the hovering birdlike-stances the dancers sometimes freeze into.

The darkness of the initial pieces was diffused by the premiere of Smith's "A Moment of Silence," danced by Allie Alletto. Created in Corfu, Greece, this past July, Smith describes the piece as a meditation of hope and peace. Indeed, its repetitive wavelike motion before an aqua background summons a sense of serenity and then, as physically expressed by the dancer, a start toward some sort of realization.

Also to be noted, "Scherzo," by Evans, offered a lighthearted, large group work set to music by Johannes Brahms. The work combines rhythm, humor, and solid dancing and got the audience smiling along with the dancers.

A fair portion of the full house at Biodance seemed to stay at NextStage for "Diaghilesque", a reimagined presentation of Ballet Russe gems by New York City dance company Kinetic Architecture. This is the type of show the Fringe Festival is meant to nurture: brave, unique works that are a powerful contrast to your run-of-the-mill theater experience. The company uses classic works by the Ballet Russe (Russian Ballet) which became prominent at the beginning of the 20th century as a jumping off point to explore transgender issues, feminism, abuse, and primal sexuality. And, for the majority of the show, the dancers are completely nude.

The program guide warns mature audiences only; still, I was not prepared for this. Honestly, I initially spent a fair amount of time studying the dancers' bodies -- which are beautiful. After adjusting, I appreciated the honesty that comes with nudity. The dancers had already disclosed all to us, in a way, so everything they created on stage seemed imbued with a raw honesty. The vulnerability of heaving ribcages, trembling buttocks, and hard nipples gave a poignant sensuality to what they performed. Plus, it was awesome to clearly see the lines of their bodies as they moved since they are highly talented dancers, combining classical ballet with contemporary and a heavy dash of burlesque.

At the heart of the show is Choreographer Faux Pas Le Fae, a transgender performance artist who both performs and guides us through the different pieces through (often hilarious) narration. Le Fae was superb in the rendition of 'Afternoon of the Faun,' immortalized back when by Nijinsky. Clad in a feathery skirt and leather corset for most of the piece (Frankly, I can't remember if the clothes stayed on for this one or not), there was both campiness and a deep poignancy to the work.

My favorite piece, however, was "Firebird" in which the title character is portrayed by two different women. The women were topless but wore lacy red underwear and masks. Beginning with Johnny Cash and "Ring of Fire" and moving through The Doors' "Set the Night on Fire" and a slew of other songs filled with longing and lust, the women chased and wooed each other with both bravado and tenderness. Hot.

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