The New York International Fringe Festival ended abruptly, as Hurricane Irene unfortunately shuttered the last weekend of performances. The good news though, is that audiences will still have a chance to catch some of the fine work that appeared in this year’s festival. Many of the participants plan to reprise their Fringe performances at other venues and some (after catching their breath) will soon set about creating new work. Two of this year’s most impressive pieces came from companies specializing in narrative dance, and their energy, discipline and passion bodes well for the future. SWARUPA and CHIEN DE MOI vary widely in terms of subject matter and approach, but both showcase the work of visionary choreographers and use the hypnotic power of dance to pull the audience into their respective worlds.
Though the tradition of Bharatanatyam dance goes back to ancient times, there is a potent modernity to the polyrhythmic soundtrack and psycho-spiritual intensity that animates SWARUPA. This timeless quality befits the show’s central theme: the many facets of the eternal dancer Shiva. Through a series of short pieces, the Jiva Performing Arts troupe shows us the preparation of the temple of Shiva, the accelerating dance of universal creation, a sensual ritual of beautification, and the journey of a warrior turning the tide of battle as his being is imbued with the destructive / creative powers of the deity. Choreographer Sonali Skandan pays close attention to the details (wherein God resides, according to the old adage). Small, subtle movements are as much a part of the story as the large angular and sinuous shapes created by colorfully clad limbs in motion. Eye gestures, smiles of irony, and wistful tilts of the head make the movements of the cosmos visible on a human scale.
Pittsburgh’s In The Basement Theater Company offers one of this year’s most erotically charged entries. CHIEN DE MOI contains no nudity and very little spoken language. But the primal pounding and sensuous swirling of Marquis Wood and Sophia Schrank’s bold choreography is hauntingly seductive. Clad in virginal white, a young woman lies alone in her bed, neither quite dreaming nor fully awake. As she hovers in this in-between state, suppressed energies bubble up from her subconscious and are made flesh through fantasy. Her world is suddenly populated by moonlit sprites, a macabre timekeeper, and a virile man-creature with both canine and human features. Fearful of being devoured, the protagonist tries to run away, only to find herself more deeply lost in the dangerous but alluring forest. The monster is the unspoken seething of her own volatile libido. Still awash with the storybook imagery of childhood, her psyche is racing toward womanhood faster than her intellect can cope. The result is a kaleidoscopic blend of innocence and wickedness for which the ensemble’s athletic, graceful dancers and eclectic, throbbing soundtrack are ideally suited. CHIEN DE MOI’s only flaw is that, at about 45 minutes, the show feels like something of a tease. A full evening of In The Basement’s work would have been welcome.