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Edinburgh Festival Fringe

American Repertory Ensemble - 'Dialogues 2006'

by Kate Snedeker

August 9, 2006 -- Roxy Art House, Main Hall

The cup overfloweth when it comes to dance at the 2006 Festival Fringe. One of this year's highlights is the Austin-based American Repertory Ensemble. The Ensemble, founded by musician Rob Deemer and dancer/choreographer David Justin, brings together a group of professional ballet dancers and musicians during the dancers' summer layoff, and gives them ato chance to experiment and collaoboaratote outside the usual bounds of classical dance.

The results of this collaboration were mixed, with the pleasure more in the dancing and music than in the choreography. The performance takes place in the atmospheric main hall of the Roxy Art House, a former kirk, creating a delightfully intimate long, shallow stage with the audience on three sides.

The ensemble is introduced, rising from seats in the audience, in Harris McEldowney's 'Group Therapy', a lively series of vignettes to musical theatre favorites. Like many of the evening's pieces, the choreography was not particularly memorable, but there was great joy in watching these professional dancers up close. Of note were husband and wife Christine Winkler and John Welker (Atlanta Ballet), who pulled off some stunning twisting throw-lifts and the free-wheeling Ikolo Griffin (principal, Joffrey Ballet).

Combining Rob Deemer's score played by the Tosca String Quartet and& pianist Michelle Schumann, Luc Sante's spoken text, and a trio of dancers, David Justin's "Epitaph" was an interesting concept that ended up being too much to handle all together. The central focus and great strength of "Epitaph" was the slow, limb stretching, deeply etched choreography for a trio of spandex short/leotard clad dancers (Griffin, Welker and Kathi Martuza of (Oregon Ballet Theatre)). The paced dancing and brief costumes allowed the audience to focus every movement of the dancer's’ finely toned bodies and it was fasciicnating to watch every sinew twisting and stretching, the details of Martuza and& Welker's duo and Griffin slowly writhing across the floor.

However, the mood and intensity of the dance was disrupted by the seemingly completely unrelated spoken text, a series of epitaphs, both tragic and humorous, of the deceased. Deemer's score, played beautifully (though with what appeared to be some early tuning issues) by the live musicians, was more than enough to support the dance, and I found myself irritated with the constant intrusion of the spoken word. I couldn't focus on the dancing, the text and the music all at once -- - and the dancing should be the centerpiece here.

A short interlude followed, with Leigh Mahoney playing a violin solo on violin lit illuminated by only by a tray of candles held by a sheet-swathed figure. Later, Michelle Schumann gave a superb rendition of John Cage's "In a Landscape". It is a welcome treat to enjoy both dance and music together and separately in a single Fringe performance.

The quintet of female dancers were highlighted in "Solemn Opus: The Journey of Lost and Found", another creation by David Justin. Sarah Hopkin's sheer -camisole lined tops and long, flowing skirts picked up the accents of the choreography, extending and prolonging the movements. The mood, established by the Shostakovich score, is somber, and the women twist and stretch down the length of the stage. In addition to a fine solo for Christine Winkler, Justin makes use of linear formations, his dancers lined up opposite the audience, turning and stretching a leg high up and lifting the skirt to it's fullest.

Returning to the upbeat mood that openeding the evening, the grand finale is a series of vignettes to a rockin' Joe Cocker medley. With the musicians now acting as waiters, the bare church hall becomes a warm, lively ‘70s café. In the central pas de deux, Welker and Winkler were outstanding as a couple deeply in love, but having some hard times. Their partnership is emotional, sure and ultra smooth. The final song allowed each dancer to show off a little, and here Griffin again stole the show with his effortless athleticism pulling off a series of pirouettes and turns in second and attitude. Also dancing were Brennan Boyer (OBT), Jennifer Goodman (Joffrey Ballet), Daniela DeLloe (OBT), Eric Midgley (Ballet Austin), Aara Krumpe (Ballet Austin) and Gabor Kapin (Boston Ballet).

American Repertory Ensemble is a welcome addition to the Festival Fringe. While the choreography is not always on par with the level of the dance and music, dance fans are well advised to make a trip to the Roxy to see these dancers in action. You won't see finer outside the International Festival!

The Ensemble performs daily at 7pm through August 12.

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