Every June, I look forward to the dancing at Big Range Dance Festival, now in its ninth year. It’s not that the choreography isn’t noteworthy. Not at all, it’s just that choreographers are often dancing their own works, or finally getting to work with dancers who understand their idiosyncratic qualities. All of this leads to more impassioned, nuanced dancing.
In Program A, this virtuosic phenomenon started with Leslie Scates, who is hands-down the most interesting mover in Houston. I say “mover,” rather than “dancer,” because her range pushes beyond traditional and contemporary vocabulary into a larger inclusion of human movement possibilities. We see gestures we not only recognize but have done, pushing, reaching, pulling away, all there, slighting abstracted, deeply human and immensely communicative. In her duet with another outstanding performer and Assistant Professor at Texas Woman’s University, Jordan Fuchs, Programed Cell Death, the pair created an electric field, where anything can happen, love, repulsion, support and mystery. And anything does happen when Fuchs sticks his hand up Scates’ pants, creating an extension of himself in one sexy/funny section. It’s charged and highly volatile. To call it intense would seem like an a gross understatement. Andy Russ’ bizarre sound score amplified the tension.
Scates is moving into a level of mastery in her performance we rarely see on the contemporary scene. As a regular atLower Left’s renown improvisational dance workshop, March 2 Marfa, she sets a high standard for continuing to train for the work one does. Looking more chiseled and defined, her technical facilities have moved up to compare with her imaginative capabilities. In her solo Suite Female part one, Scates shows a more minimalist side. Set to a movement and sound score by Lower Left’s Rebecca Bryant, the piece lets the audience in on the visceral sometimes brutal edge of improvisational choreography.
On a more traditional front, yet still on the luscious dancing idea, Kristen Frankiewicz and Lindsey Thompson make a gorgeous team for Teresa Chapman’s somber duet, Reach. Chapman successfully taps into these dancers’ voluptuous generosity. What a joy to watch a choreographer and dancers matched so well. Dancers perform at the top of their abilities when this occurs.
Occupying the impressive out-of towners spot were Matthew Cumbie and Amanda Jackson, who messed with our heads with their racy gender exploration thinking seeing standing feeling object of attention. Crashing into each other with a sassy finesse,the pair employed turbulent partnering, overt sexual gestures and an eye-locking connection to created a terse but steamy climate. Captivating movers both, their raw but slick style exudes a “downtown,” aesthetic, but they hark from Texas Woman’s University. Let’s hope we see more of them.
Erin Reck provided yet another example of creating work for people who can hop on your wavelength in her tense trio Flux, performed by Reck, Brit Wallis and Jacquelyne Boe. Dancers whisper stream of consciousness thoughts to begin the piece, which takes off when they stop and start dancing with a knowing presence. The don’t so much as dance as listen to each other move. A pristine moment towards the end suggests that each senses the space the other just occupied. Nice.
Jennifer Wood, the festival director, lightened the mood with Slam School, a quirky romp alluding to her difficult days in gym class, danced by the home team Suchu Dance. Squeaking tennis shoes were a blast. No way is Tiny Shariffskul going to get picked for the dodge ball team, but she’s adorable while she tries.
Bravo to Wood for continuing the festival at this level. Lighting by Jeremy Choate helped to make each dance distinct. The Big Range continues with Programs B and C through June 18, at Barnvelder, which boasts a swanky Big Range lounge with DJ Justin Klein’s cool music and a nifty light sculpture overhead.
Reprinted from Dance Source Houston.