Choreographer Donna Scro Samori stood on the side porch of the Oakeside Mansion in Bloomfield, Sept. 11, smiling as she surveyed the crowd below her. Fans of her company, Freespace Dance, clustered expectantly in the wine- and perfume-scented atmosphere as she welcomed them to “A Moving Performance: An Evening of Site-Specific Works.”
The lockdown of the past six months has seemed like a bad dream. Yet no one present could take this occasion for granted, least of all Samori, whose livelihood and vocation are threatened by the government’s iron-heeled response to the current pandemic. Typically, this event would launch the company’s 2020-2021 season. But will there be another dance season?
In her brief remarks, Samori emphasized the dancer’s essential need to perform. “It’s what keeps us alive,” she said. Evidently many theater-goers feel the same way. Demand for tickets has prompted Freespace Dance to add a second performance on Oct. 18. (Visit freespacedance.com.)
Those who attend will be well rewarded. Watching others leap and twirl is a life-affirming activity — the best thing short of dancing oneself. It invigorates the body and the mind, not only putting us in touch with our own (too often dormant) physicality, but also gently fostering a spiritual awakening. More than anything else, perhaps, in these dangerous times, dance reminds us we are human beings, not machines.
Oakeside offers a number of picturesque outdoor spaces that Samori uses imaginatively in “A Moving Performance,” turning the campus into an elegant, outdoor salon. Lawns of various sizes frame this series of dance vignettes.
The audience spreads out along the street side of the mansion’s broad side-lawn, helping to define the space for “Six-Foot Fence,” the opening number. Seven dancers march out to take their places along the wooden barrier. Curling backward, the performers seem magnetized and drawn toward us; and the rest of the dance consists of various feints and kicking, swiveling sorties as the dancers travel back and forth between the fence and the ragged line of viewers.
We then split into two groups to take turns watching “From a Distance,” a lively but wistful duet for would-be lovers who are not allowed to touch. Victoria Mergola and Andrew Kruep exchange come-hither glances while posing on and scampering around low rocks in the small lawn that fronts the stable. Yet try as they might, these two cannot connect. Even when standing close together, they continue poignantly to reach for each other, as if they inhabited parallel dimensions.
The first of three excerpts from a piece called “Intimate Intricacies” is a showstopper, performed in a rectangular patch of grass behind the house. Juliet Goswell and Alfonse Napolitano are the stars, their figures tersely defined in sculptural poses that seem anchored to the lawn. At an agreed signal, however, they spring into action, allowing their bodies to fall and rebound in dramatic hand-stands, tumbles and spasmodic waves that fill the space with energy. Thrilling!
Though they complements each other’s shapes more often than they move in unison, clearly Goswell and Napolitano are dancing in synchrony (or else … the unthinkable concussion). Emily Ingersoll and Jasiah Rodriguez seem like rival fashion models, however, in “Dual,” stalking aggressively around the perimeter of a grassy arbor. These dancers fill the space with rangy gestures; if they weren’t social-distancing they would attack each other. When they cross paths, Rodriguez leaps over Ingersoll, his leg extended like a steel blade.
Two solos follow. “V” is a gently weighted piece that Samori performs on a stone terrace, her smooth transitions contrasting with a vocabulary of clearly defined hand gestures. Ingersoll returns for another excerpt from “Inner Intricacies,” this one a suite of crooked poses and off-kilter moves in which the dancer manages never to lose her balance.
After tightly focusing our attention on the solos, the program concludes with an expansive group number danced on the front lawn. Here the dancers peel out of line, one by one, and go running to form new lines that split and mesh together. Once again, the energy level soars.
“A Moving Performance” has now taken us from a large, open space through a maze of small spaces, and back out into the open. It feels as if we’ve passed through a bottleneck, dancers and audience all together. Let’s hope that when the lockdown ends, its survivors may experience a similar sense of freedom restored.
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