Honky Tonkin’ Around
Cornish Dance Theater, Saturday Evening, 16 April 2011
Broadway Performing Arts Center, Seattle
by Dean Speer
Sometimes sitting through productions of student companies, those of our own alma mater as is the case here or even of those that we started ourselves, can be a painful experience – an exercise in patience or endurance. [I once sat through a show that had over 40 numbers on it; the next teaching day the students asked me which ones I liked best – and I had to confess that after about number 17 my head was spinning...as they all had started to blur together.] Sometimes these performances prove to be a thorough delight.
The latter was the case with two dances that particularly stood out – a reconstruction of the Anton Dolin “Pas de Quatre” staged by Pat Hon and the wonderfully bouncy “Honky Tonkin” by Wade Madsen.
This is by far the best piece of choreography by Madsen. Using a motif of two side-side skips and a backwards rond de jambe that switched legs with swinging arms, this work was a showcase for its two lead dancers – Sam Picart and Charlotte Smith, who were exemplary in their parts – and a full cast of corps. Each head gesture, look and gaze were right in character and spot-on. The work’s infectious energy, sense of fun and self-deprecating humor lifted the spirits of the audience and the bar level of the works produced. Madsen smartly returned to the motif enough times for it to be a running thread throughout the work’s five sections, developed it, but also used it as a conclusion for the group – somewhat like returning to the tonic chord in music. Structured but without being overly erudite, he let the dancing happen. [With some works, there’s a lot of choreography and movement but I find myself asking, “Where’s the dancing!?”] Very satisfying.
The last time Cornish Dance Theatre did a reconstruction of Anton Dolin’s “Pas de Quatre,” was about 30 or so years ago when a former teacher at Cornish College, Steve Heck, staged it. Then, it was done more for laughs than now, with the curtain coming up too soon and ballerinas turning and looking out at the audience as if surprised, then the curtain closing, et cetera. Hon did it the right way – serious comedy. Depicting something as subtle as the supposed rivalry between these four Romantic Era ballerinas must be played straight. There is lots of straight dancing here with Dolin inserting motifs that were associated with each dancer – one brilliant petit allegro (32 consecutive entrechat quatres eight on either side, twice), one floaty and lyric, and so forth. Small differences between versions are interesting to note. In the film, “Ballets Russes” that came out a few years ago, the excerpted section of this ballet which is shown, with the multiple echappé à la seconde that turns the group while the four hold fingers overhead, is a little more extended before they separate into their signature steps. Never the less, Hon’s staging was good and good for the student dancers, although Katherine Murphy seemed miscast as Taglioni. Murphy has the requisite height and length of limb –long legs and arms – but could have been more fluid with her épaulement and therefore was a bit stiff in the shoulders and back; the famous port de bras was neither as ethereal nor as liquid as it could have been.
Opening the show was “Refined Slang” by new faculty member Rainbow Fletcher that was essentially a hip-hop work. A corps of 7 women gathered around a lone female who shudders through a brief solo while the corps makes bionic/robotic like movement on the outside of a lit square. This is repeated several times with others taking the place of the soloist before the group breaks out. “Slang” did show off its cast members well, deploying their many strengths – some had great extension, others nice attack.
Concluding the program was Deborah Wolf’s “Crash of Days.” Wolf’s choreographic movement style tends to be more free-form and feels to me like I’m watching the visual equivalent of post-hippy era fun and funky – a lovely macrame of swoops and dives punctuated with jumps.
The four works made attending Cornish Dance Theatre’s semi-annual concert series worth venturing out and around into the Seattle Spring mist.