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Code f.a.d. Company and Human Landscape Dance

'American Gods: Contemporary dance mythology and divine fashionistas'

by Carmel Morgan

December 9, 2012 -- Dance Place, Washington, DC

Code f.a.d. Company (the f.a.d. refers to “film, art, dance”) and Human Landscape Dance teamed up at Dance Place in a joint show with an intriguing title, “American Gods: Contemporary dance mythology and divine fashionistas.” The title was the one thing that both halves of the dance concert actually had in common. Otherwise, the respective companies, dancers, and choreographic styles were really quite different.

Code f.a.d Company, based in Raleigh, North Carolina, and founded in 2008 by University of Maryland MFA graduate and NC State University faculty member Autumn Mist Belk, opened the performance with “Fashion Briefs,” a creative series of vignettes about some of the gods of designer fashion: Calvin Klein, Vera Wang, Lee Alexander McQueen, Michael Kors, Dolce & Gabbana, Christian Louboutin, and Louis Vuitton. Belk has a knack for humor, and an eye for drama. While the young troupe (Belk, Natalee Campbell, Jill Bradley Hall, Kelley Murphy, Brooks Owens, and Christina Serafino) seemed, well, young, they performed aptly enough. However, Belk’s imaginative mixed media work showed incredible maturity. The choreography, ideas, costumes, props, musical choices, and films (two of the seven vignettes were actually dance films) added up to a well balanced, thoughtful, and amusing exploration of the fashion theme.

In “Vera Wang: The Dress,” one of the two short films, two dancers in, you guessed it, white dresses, ran, crawled, or slid urgently down a church aisle, or at times in a studio. Were they desperate for a Vera Wang wedding gown, or desperate about something else? At one point, the dancers executed jumping jacks for no apparent reason. In “A Dolce & Gabbana Doubleheader,” a pair of dancers donning baseball caps, tight striped pants, and fancy black sleeveless tops threw invisible baseballs and called players safe, but the few baseball moves blended smoothly with the other richly textured dancing carried out in unison much of the time. Overall, one saw the dancers strut, smile coldly, and wear sunglasses and snap their heads sharply, like you might expect in a piece about fashion, but “Fashion Briefs” also included some fun surprises. In “Lee Alexander McQueen,” for example, surely a tribute to the gone too soon fashion designer, the dancers walked militaristically in a diagonal line, each with a single arm swinging, in ultra high heels and did some awkward tilts of their heads, and even kicked liked mules – all oddly pleasurable to watch.

After intermission, Human Landscape Dance, led by Artistic Director Malcolm Shute, presented the dark and ominous “Aurora’s Dream,” which probably couldn’t have provided much more contrast to the mostly witty “Fashion Briefs.” According to the program, Shute took on the title role of Aurora during Saturday night’s performance, but I attended the Sunday afternoon show, and so I missed the twist of having Aurora be danced by a male. Darn it. On Sunday, Mary Szegda, in a blindfold, danced Aurora. The work was populated with rather scary spirits circulating about her. The programs notes explain that “Aurora’s Dream” portrays the “unconscious side of Sleeping Beauty,” in a nightmare that includes “a prince who creeps into bedrooms.” I felt like a psychology textbook had come to life in the middle of a chapter about Jung and/or anxiety disorders. The work was a little bit fascinating and a lot confounding. But I’m sure Aurora’s life must have been the same!

Next was “Penelope and Odysseus/Waiting.” Here, the very pregnant Amanda Abrams shone in a solo that produced multiple emotional tugs. I have no idea whether she danced the work better with a large midsection and a different measure of hormones than usual, but wow, did she look good. I also have no idea whether any of the choreography was specifically altered to accommodate her “condition” (she was seated in a chair for a long while), but it didn’t matter to the viewing. Simple hand gestures (Penelope weaving at a loom) took on tremendous weight and acted like words, pleading. It took a long time for me to notice that composer/singer Andre Cutair was performing live in a downstage corner because my eyes were glued to Abrams.

Finally was “Medusa,” in which Szegda, Shute, Alexander Short and Heather Doyle drew attention to some familiar mythology. At the beginning of the work, dancers rolled, dove, and climbed in a fluid coil of snakes, as suits a dance called “Medusa.” Of the work’s four sections, I found the last, titled “Bodiless,” most compelling. Doyle has a commanding stage presence, and her active stillness and voiceover in the role of an immortal head deeply affected me. Like a meditating Buddha, she sat and wisdom poured out of her. Sometimes comic, and sometimes disturbing, she pondered aloud what it would be like to be bodiless. No more having to tie your shoes or paint your nails, no needing to go to the gym, you could learn languages, or learn to sing. I think I’d want to sing with her.

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