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'Charges from Domremy'

by Carmel Morgan

January 12, 2008 -- Dance Place, Washington, DC

The New York-based all-female modern dance troupe KDNY made an appearance at Washington, DC’s Dance Place on Saturday, January 12, 2008.  As part of its tenth anniversary season, the company presented “Charges from Domremy,” an evening-length work about Joan D’Arc choreographed in 1998 by KDNY’s artistic director, Kathleen Dyer.

Domremy was Joan of Arc’s hometown, and “Charges from Domremy” follows her journey from peasant teen to martyr.  The haunting oratorio “Voices of Light” by renowned composer Richard Einhorn, who was inspired to create his musical masterpiece after viewing Carl Dreyer’s classic silent film, “Joan of Arc,” accompanies the work.  Together the music and the dance provide a deeply felt meditation on the female hero.

Act I of “Charges” begins with three dancers (Hana Ginsburg, Lauren Jaynes, and Leslie Simpson) draped in beautiful white tunic-like garments slowly entering the space.  The only backdrop is a low stone wall and bundles of sticks.  The trio acts as voices from God, which the young Joan heeds.  The Voices are unearthly Wili, poised and possessed. 

Gradually, the rest of cast joins the Voices.  This includes boyishly short-haired Joan (Heather Kemp), along with the English sympathizing Burgundians (Meredith Clinton, Pagan Jordan, and Alexandra Rose) and the French (Lisa Clementi, Caitlin Trainor, Danielle Greene, and Jessica Lynn Fox).  The colors of their costumes – rich shades of blue, red, and purple – are sumptuous.  The sharp, angular movement of the militaristic Burgundians contrasts nicely with the movement of the Voices, who demonstrate extraordinary grace.  Joan, however, cannot seem to find a voice of her own. 

It seems strange that Joan, the primary figure of the piece, has such a lackluster role.  Embraced by the Voices, taunted by the Burgundians, and sporadically revered by the French, Joan herself gets lost.  Her head is tossed in the hands of the Voices and she is forcibly pulled from group to group.  Poor Joan seems dizzy with melodrama, as she is constantly collapsing.  One wishes she would finally break out in a triumphant solo, but this never happens.  Act II is not vastly different from Act I.  The backdrop changes to a stained glass window and candles, but the dancing resembles what has already been seen.    

Dyer is clearly deft at choreographing complex groupings.  “Charges” is at its best when the stage is full of dancers crossing in crazed jumps and spins as the powerful music pounds.  One grows weary, however, of the overused diagonal and the crowded stage.  The duets between Joan and the Voices in Act II provide a welcome respite.  With more stillness and fewer dancers on stage at once the abundance of delightful small, quirky movements might have been appreciated better, particularly the interesting angry bouncing of the Burgundians.  

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