Very different dances offer fresh twist on movement

February 12, 2011

By Lisa Kraus

For The Inquirer

February 12, 2011

The dances that choreographers Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes bring to the Dance Celebration series at the Annenberg are like two sides of a dancing coin: One is reflective and subtle, the other brash and arch. But here's what they share: fresh takes on movement, small bands of terrific dancers, and works based on appealing music.

The old-time bluegrass songs accompanying Weare's Bright Land tell of religious fervor, loves lost, times that are tough, and souls that are hopeful and resilient.

In a silhouetted opening image catching the WPA feel of a Walker Evans photo, dancers zoom swiftly into shapes and configurations, lingering there as if in freeze-frames, to stunning effect.

One couple bookends the dance with snapshots from their relationship. In partnering marked by surprising lifts and encirclings, their taut, tango-like dynamics seem charged with a violent undercurrent.

Bright Land unfolds in a spare setting with one hanging pool-table lamp. Shedding flouncy skirts, the women end in sheer slips. The men lose their buttoned-up finery to end in undershirts. Is it the effect of heat? Or are they getting to the heart of things?

While the strength of Weare's images is built with dance-makers tools (doubling parts, manipulating angles and levels, stretching and shrinking time), the sum is mysterious, ineffable. This is a choreographer to watch.

Another Parade by Monica Bill Barnes is billed in news materials as Barnes' portrayal of performers who try every angle to reach their audience. Conspiratorially tongue-in-cheek, its four women in unlikely turtlenecks and A-line skirts revel in their "ta-da" moments, their high kicks and hip jiggles. They reveal skin (ooh la la, some shoulder!). They clown, they chat, they treat each other with catty disdain.

Barnes' wit shines through in rapid-fire sequences, where tiny, recognizable gestures spool out alongside dance-y ones, and where a beckoning or reactive dancer's eyes and face are as important as her fancy footwork.

The inimitable James Brown features on the sound track, alternating with cuts by Bach, Streisand, and Tina Turner. Barnes' dancers slyly subvert expectations, delivering a move for each of Brown's notes.

Another Parade culminates with four audience members onstage amid a flurry of confetti and a disco ball. The whole thing's a hoot, even if somewhat flat, like multiple variations on a one-liner. Still, thanks for the giggles.