POSTED ON MAY 18, 2011:
Quite a Sight
Living Water Dance Company's VISTA program was a panorama of movement
Dance is about the body, but it's also about the soul. The Living Water Dance Company, a Tulsa-based contemporary troupe led by Amy Roark-McIntosh, the founding director of dance at Oral Roberts University, explored the connection between the two in a thoughtful, varied, and moving performance of 11 original works at Camp Loughridge on May 15.
The program, entitled VISTA: sight, vision, perspective, field of vision, glimpse, landscape ... engaged viewers with those ideas as soon as they entered the campground, with dancers scattered around the Temple Conference Center, moving in silence. Robbee Stafford floated with the wind, from a boulder up onto a stone path; Rachel Bruce Johnson wrestled with a trio of pine trees; others played with the building's panoramic windows.
"Part of the vision I have for Living Water," Roark-McIntosh said, "is to share dance and improvisation in both traditional and creative venues, and Loughridge gives us the opportunity to creatively explore both indoor and outdoor space in a beautiful, natural setting."
The dancers moved inside, and the program opened with "Tension y escape," a flamenco solo by Lexi Allen (accompanied by guitarist Johnny Beard and percussionist Dylan Allen), which formed a striking contrast to the outdoor improvisation. In a stark black and white dress, her agile hands twining through the air as her feet stamped the floor, Allen was both structured and luxuriant, her steady gaze holding the focal point between groundedness and freedom.
L. Brooke Schlecte's "Shifting Parables" had the mesmerizing Johnson (also an ORU dance professor and the executive director of Bell House Arts) working at her edges. Seeming lost in space, she pushed a hand against her shoulder, her elbow, and her cheek to see when and where she'd fall. She looked up uncertainly, as if consulting a higher power, then looked back to her own body to try out the message. Her hands gestured haphazardly, then took on the movements of writing. Johnson's costume was all stripes and lines, telegraphing the solo's story of how we tell the story of who we are.
Anchoring VISTA were two long pieces, both by Roark-McIntosh, both rich with spiritual symbolism and ideas about community and communion. "Eucharistia," set to haunting music by Olafur Arnalds, took viewers through stages of preparing for a literal communion -- bread and wine -- and for its metaphoric counterpart, the transformation of a person through grace. Eight dancers entered in a line, then broke off in charged gestures (a finger to a palm, hands cupping mouths, fists clenched against the womb). Johnson crumpled to the floor apart from the group and was guided by a riveting Jessica Vokoun (assistant professor of dance at the University of Tulsa) through a sort of conversion experience, at the end of which Johnson's arms subtly traced the axes of a cross. She lay prostrate at the back of the room (bright and high-ceilinged like a cabin-cathedral) as Vokoun came forward, offering bread and wine to everyone in attendance who wished to partake. "Eucharistia" was a powerful meditation on the ways in which the support of a community allows "outsideness" to be revealed, broken down, and transformed.
For "Untamed," first seen as part of the Living Arts Contemporary Dance New Genre festival, the company brought the audience outside and performed the first half of the piece in a stand of trees and on a grassy hill. This work -- exploring "the mystery of the spirit of God" through sensory experience -- benefited from this natural setting, as Roark-McIntosh's expansive, flowing choreography merged with rustling trees and gleaming water. Incense, oil, candle flame, dark robes, baptism and anointing -- the piece was full of ancient religious imagery, made new by its expression in a contemporary dance for women.
As the dancers moved indoors, they brought the audience with them, continuing the piece in front of a dance film by Johnson, projected onto a screen between the stage and those awe-inspiring windows. At one point, the women on the stage, in black, did the same gestures as the women in the film, in white, who looked like angels moving in mirror image to the women on earth.
The strongest piece of the afternoon was Johnson's "Avelut," set to music by Philip Glass and based on Jewish mourning rituals. In her choreography, Johnson is often interested in the lightness and weight of the body; here those qualities take on an overtly spiritual dimension. She notices that the grieving body feels different, disengaged, out of place in the world. With Roark-McIntosh and Stafford beside her, all three sitting on low stools, Johnson watched her right arm fall and dangle; she walked heavily on all fours and sliced the air with her elbow, her movement just slightly out of time with the others. In her grief she literally fell off her chair, over and over, and what could have been an overwrought gesture was in Johnson's hands a masterpiece of subtle anguish. Her friends supported her with the simplest movements of compassion -- grounding, lifting, protecting. It was a brief, spare dance that spoke a hard truth gently.
VISTA also included several short pieces, including a solo on the idea of blindness, passionately danced by Stafford; a charming tap duet by McIntosh and Heather Fick, to the song "Me and My Shadow"; and Johnson's "Red," featuring Brie Matlach as a woman discovering mischievousness and surprise in a lonely situation. To conclude the program, local musician Dave Paulec played and McIntosh sang the 19th-century hymn "O Love That Will Not Let Me Go," while four dancers improvised a joyful ending to an afternoon of searching and finding, and attending to what one finds along the way.
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