For the fourth year in a row, Centenary College is inviting audiences to experience the excitement of dance in New Jersey, with a Dance Fest that continues through this weekend. All the performers are based in state.
Moe-tion Dance Theater, from Frenchtown, opened the series on Thursday, presenting works by artistic director Maureen Glennon and associates. The program continues with Nai-Ni Chen Dance Company on Saturday night, and features comic soloist Claire Porter on Sunday, all at the college’s Lackland Center, in Hackettstown.
Glennon’s dances have the ring of truth, and in some cases the choreographer has frankly poured her sorrows into them. “Betty” portrays her grandmother’s dementia. Even a plotless piece like the duet “Sense of Being” feels wise, and grounded in experience.
Glennon can also be goofy, however, when the occasion calls for it. “To Get to the Other Side” employs a motley crew of students, who rush to form patterns and tremble as they impersonate bowling pins waiting to be knocked down. This ingenious piece refreshes with its sheer silliness.
Wrapped around each other in “Sense of Being,” dancers Bryan Matland and Hannah Rolfes form a compact ball. Hunching side by side, or rolling off each other’s backs, they seem inseparable, although the duet proposes a gradual unraveling. By the time Matland lunges for Rolfes, and she blocks him abruptly with an outstretched arm, the honeymoon is over. When they reverse roles — he diving to the floor, and she rushing to cover him with her body — their relationship has entered the terminal, flailing stage.
“Betty” was initially a solo that Glennon performed herself, wandering confusedly amid a wilderness of headless trees. Now Rachel Brown does the wandering, while other dancers mime her fading memories. Elly Mandarakas recalls Betty’s carefree childhood, playing at hide-and-seek or hopscotch. Matland and Alexandra Williamson take hands at a social dance, and are caught up in the tender whirl of romance.
Although the trees are still there, enclosing Brown in a transparent stockade, the presence of these other, happier versions of Betty are consoling and soften the work’s impact. When Brown’s fingers close to grasp the hand of an invisible companion, we know her sufferings have ended.
Thursday’s event also featured choreography by guest artists Randy James and Lisa Peluso.
James’ Latin number “Among the Stars That Have a Different Birth” looks carefree, but requires a freedom to move that only comes with training; and the students who performed it were amateurish.
Peluso’s “1,000 Vigils,” however, appeared deliciously crisp, as the choreographer developed movement themes with her cast of four women. Beginning with shaking heads, Peluso experimented with various side-to-side movements. She toyed with visual rhythms as the women, who were kneeling on all fours, extended one leg coyly at an angle; and she arranged the dancers in cleverly layered tableaux. A dance-maker with this much craft deserves more opportunities to show her work.
For information on the other Dance Fest events, visit centenarystageco.org.