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Jane Franklin Dance presents: Dance Sampler

'Affixed Exchanges', 'Flight', 'Quarter Life Crisis', 'Across the Lines', 'Boundary', 'Path of Attraction', 'Frozen Angels'

by Carmel Morgan

November 10, 2007 -- Gunston Theater One, Arlington, Virginia

DC’s Lisa Traiger recently published a very provocative article titled, “What’s Wrong With Modern Dance?” (available on the danceviewtimes website.) Ms. Traiger makes several excellent points about why modern dance fails to attract large audiences.  Modern dance “isn’t necessarily narrative, it isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t easy to digest. That makes it a tough sell.”  She further quips: “This is the problem with modern dance: if it leaves too much to chance, too much that is hard to comprehend, audiences will feel inadequate and why should they return?”  I had this in mind when I went to see the “Dance Sampler” that Jane Franklin Dance presented on Saturday, November 10, 2007, at Gunston Theater One in Arlington, Virginia.

Unfortunately, I agree that modern dance frequently tends to alienate its audience.  Rather than draw the audience in, many contemporary modern dance works leave the viewer feeling alone and bewildered by the experience.  Modern dance is abstract and often risky, as it should be.  However, modern dance should still be able to communicate a message, whatever that message is.  A bunch of moving bodies onstage that leave us scratching our collective heads is not a sign of a successful modern dance piece, in my opinion.  We should feel something other than simply confusion.

The choreographers participating in the Dance Sampler are to be commended for their fortitude in creating new works.  There were many moments worthy of exploration and recollection.  But in the end, the Sampler show encountered many of the pitfalls that Ms. Traiger highlights.  Not everyone will “get” a particular piece, but they should want to get it.  In this Dance Sampler, some of the choreography seemed to be too challenging for many dancers to gracefully execute.  Dancers should be wary of being so caught up in the intricacies of the choreography that they neglect to engage the audience. Choreographers, for their part, must be certain their dancers can create such engagement while executing the movements. 

The most notable pieces succeeded through engaged performances.  The piece “Across the Lines,” choreographed to the music of Tracy Chapman by Donna Jackson and Travis Gatling and performed by Baltimore’s Full Circle Dance Company, dealt with race and space in an effective manner, while “Boundary,” choreographed by Jane Franklin, had a pleasing mature progression and a wonderful musicality.  The poetry that accompanied the second section of “Boundary” added depth to the work, and the layered voices echoed the flow of the dance.  Kudos go to lighting designer Stefan Johnson, whose artistry was a real standout.

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