By Nicholas-Martin Kearney | Photos by Dana Nollsch
An exploration of the many ways in which women express themselves, “Evince,” the latest offering of performances by the Downtown Dance Collective, weaved together stories in movement that suggest a feminist point of view, and revealed startling aspects of the inner-lives of women.
The freedom that women have with one another and the easy-going sensuality of women balancing weight and gravity of their bodies with emotional expression highlight the subtle ways in which women support each other. Women dancing out of loneliness, despair, joy; women dancing about being a mother, sister, lover, friend; women dancing towards a new life and away from a painful one.
Powerful messages all, told in varying degrees of technical ability and choreographic structure, speak volumes about the contemporary dance landscape in northern Nevada.
Under the direction of Eve Allen, the Downtown Dance Collective performances on April 2 and 3 at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts in Reno included 5 Branches Dance, Great Basin Movement Project, E•Voke Modern Dance Company, Photo 51 Productions (Denver, CO), Eve Allen, Mandy Albert, Stephanie Duffy (San Francisco, CA), Cordelia Leeder, Jennie Pitts-Knipe (Truckee, CA), Kate Speer (Denver, CO), Jamie Sutton, and Shelby Wilburn.
The performers comprised a wide range of age, technical ability, artistic expression, and choreographic vocabulary.
The Pioneer Underground is an intimate performance space that has some limitations for dancers and dance audiences. The lack of a sprung-wood floor required the loan of one from the Sierra Nevada Ballet. The quasi-stadium seating layout of the seats in the auditorium might be an asset for some type of presentations, but contemporary dance is rooted in its connection with the ground, making much of the floor work by the dancers extremely difficult to view.
Lighting for dance is an art form unto itself as it requires equipment to be hung in strategic places to highlight the three-dimensionality of the human form, not a typical practice for designers working in dramatic theater; consequently, the simple washes of color and the occasional downspot did little to enhance the work of the dancers onstage.
While the technical limitations of the venue did present the audience from experiencing dance performance in its optimal condition, the quality of dance artist and artistry is worth commenting upon.
The choreography of KJ Dahlaw in the show’s opening dance, “Dance for Two: Act II: Reflection,” set to music by Reinhold Gliére, was an intimate love duet challenging gender norms danced with an emotional honesty that set the tone for the rest of the show. KJ Dahlaw and Cordelia Leeder played to their individual strengths: raw physicality (Dahlaw) and sweetness (Leeder) that combined beautifully as they told a story of fleeting love between two women; it reveals the nuance of relationship through the intimacy of balance, weight and breath.
“Save and Continue,” jointly choreographed and danced by Many Albert and Eve Allen to music by Maya Beiser, showcased confident dancing and a keen understanding of movement metaphor. A simple hand-washing/wringing movement became the arrival and departure point of dance phrases that revealed a level of technical prowess by both women indicative of a well-rounded dance education in ballet and modern dance.
The movement gesture of hand-wringing suggested a time-worn tradition of worry and futility by women. Tightly rehearsed, this piece allowed the maturity of its dancers to shine within synchronized movement patterns.
Words of advice by our mother have poignant appeal when compiled together in a performance art piece entitled, “This is your mother calling,” choreographed and danced by Amy Millennor and Jessica Troppmann. These two women deliver wry musings on living a life true to your passions as only a mom can do, and while the dancing is limited and perfunctory, the wisdom and humor contained within the dance remind us of the universality of a mother’s desire for the best for her child.
Troppmann also delivered the evening’s other memorable commentary on women’s worth in “Unwrapped.” In this duet, two women extol the virtue of a new invention: “neutralized wrapping paper,” really, a roll of brown butcher paper that when carefully applied, will neutralize the devastating effects of a nasty break-up with a boyfriend, or eliminate the shame from overeating and compulsive shopping.
Perhaps the evening’s most profound performance was not a dance, per se, but a peace offering by dancer, Jennie Pitts-Knipe. Dressed in a drop waist, blue gingham dress that epitomized 1950s domesticity, Pitts-Knipe inspired us to be better humans as she slowly wove her way through the auditorium unraveling a ball of red yarn into the hands of the audience members while encouraging introspection by uttering phrases of common sense advice.
Each phrase began with “Because…” and highlighted a different social ill, which at first, was shocking to hear uttered aloud. These phrases built up in speed and in intensity; midway through the audience-weaving process, the red ball of yarn was no longer thrust into the hands of its newest recipient, rather, welcomed and received, then aided along to the next person.
A transformation occurred — initially, to be handed a piece of red yarn seemed to be an individual indictment of character flaw. However, when an individual flaw was universally shared, as they all seem to be, the group embraced each other’s individual flaw as their own. By the time she made the return journey through the auditorium to her point of origin, the ball of red yarn was rolled back up and with it, our preconceived notions of human equality.
Downtown Dance Collective is a collaborative dance organization that works to strengthen and enhance the performing arts in Reno. Through the promotion and organization of live events, DDC gives local dance artists the opportunity for artistic exchange and experimentation resulting in innovative and thought-provoking works.
For those new to understanding dance or those who seek to support live dance performance in northern Nevada, attending a performance by the Downtown Dance Collective is sure to broaden your perspective on arts and culture in the region.
For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/ddcreno.