The folks behind Present Tense Dance’s Fringe Festival show at Kilbourn Hall must know a thing or two about truth in advertising, because “Make ‘Em Laugh / Make ‘Em Cry” does just that. The sweeping, hour-long performance (which flew by faster than I wanted it to) reminds us, in simple terms, the best of what dance can do: it can entertain and it can give us an emotional release ��" sometimes even both.
The dancers came right out with a bang, in a fast, furious, and fun bowling-inspiring routine (“Ten Pin Alley”). The first moments were set to “Also sprach Zarathustra, Op. 30” by Richard Strauss (you know, ‘bum … bum … bum … BA-DUM! And then the drums kick in?). It made bowling seem epic and hilarious. And that’s before the tune transitioned into “Wipeout.” The 10 pins ��" all dancers decked out in white ��" wiggled, wriggled, leapt, and lunged as they were knocked over ��" or not. Halfway through the pins transformed into bowlers. With everyone leaping and flying all over the stage in every which direction, it was impossible not to laugh. Mission 1 accomplished.
As promised, the second piece, “Falling Into Palpable Wonder,” was more somber. It started with about a half-dozen dancers wandering about the stage seemingly in awe of nothing. Their arms outstretched toward the sky before collapsing back toward the ground ��" in a decisive, but smooth and controlled way. They moved in and out of one another with such fluidity, finding a partner then losing them and finding another. Before long, the dancers melded together into one, moving swiftly amongst each others’ limbs and torsos in this stunningly beautiful piece.
Without missing a beat, the show brought the audience right back up with another light-hearted routine. A woman saddled with several bags, a cell phone, and coffee in hand tap danced around stage, just trying to juggle the chaos of her busy life. A modern-day Donald O’Connor if you will (perhaps a nod to the tap dancer’s performance in “Singin’ in the Rain’”?). After a brief interlude where things seemed to slow and the tapper gained control, a circus erupted out of nowhere ��" literally. Before long there was a ringleader, acrobats, tight-rope walker, and a woman on rollerblades whizzing by, each juggling (not literally) cell phones, papers, gadgets, and even a baby. Although things quickly devolved from a dance to more of a fun acting piece from there, the message was clear and hilariously presented: sometimes we try to do just too much at once.
The show was particularly well paced, but the next number slowed the momentum noticeably. Still, “Sic Gloria Transit Mundi” was stunning and actually did bring a tear or two to my eye (Mission 2 accomplished). One dancer started off, desperately clawing at the back wall, struggling to stand. Her anguish was palpable, even halfway up in the auditorium. Other dancers entered the stage slowly in arabesque, then dipped forward until their fingertips nearly brushed the floor. The line and control exhibited was mind-boggling. The lengthy piece continued on, with the original dancer hopelessly trying to stand, only to be knocked down, gently, by the other dancers. She found solace in a male dancer, only to be kept from him later on. The piece was a bit long, but masterfully choreographed and danced. One that will bring you to tears (if you let yourself go there) or at the very least, give you chills.
Ellen Tomer danced the only solo of the night. Clad in black leggings and blue top, she rose and fell and swirled around the stage like the ocean. Her movements were fluid, then rough again ��" all the while with exquisite lines and incredible control. I barely put my pen to my notepad during this piece (a rarity) because I was so entranced by the dancer seemingly cresting and breaking across the stage in front of me.
Since the previous two numbers were slower (the “Make ‘Em Cry” category), I expected the last one to make me laugh. But it didn’t ��" and that’s a good thing. The final piece, “Dorchester Park,” featured five women in sundresses, lounging about the stage. It felt like aSundaypicnic in the park, the woman sitting in a circle, then lifting themselves into arabesques and lunging by themselves, then in pairs, then as a whole group. It was as fresh as a summer breeze, with the dancers twirling and leaping for joy. Rather than making us laugh or making us cry, the last piece instead struck the perfect ending note, by simply making us smile.