Review: Dancers venture ‘Outside the Lines’ at Centenary University

outside the lines

PHOTOS BY ANTHONY JOHNSON: NARRATOGRAPHY

Dancers perform Ariel Rivka’s “In Her Words” at Centenary University in Hackettstown.

Revolutionary times call for unorthodox thinking. So the concept of “Outside the Lines,” a new dance showcase sponsored by choreographers Maureen Glennon Clayton and Lea Antolini, could not be more welcome. The second event in what promises to be a series of site-specific performances throughout New Jersey took place on May 15 at Centenary University in Hackettstown.

Nine dance groups participated, presenting a total of 11 pieces outdoors with the audience seated on the lawn in front of Smith Hall. While mask-wearing and social-distancing rules were still in effect, any live performance that does not involve vaccine “passports” amounts to a small win for freedom.

Only a handful of the dances were truly “site-specific,” making use of features particular to this space. Glennon’s “Solo No More,” performed by five members of her moe-tion dance theater, portrayed the effects of social isolation, confining each dancer to the space beneath a tree. Cowering, clutching their heads and wringing their hands, these individuals were beset by grief and anxiety. Yet they seemed to comfort themselves by stroking the trees and pressing themselves against them, biding time until the dancers could come together. Sturdy, patient trees make great role models in tough times.

Dancers in Olga Rabetskaya’s “kimono”

Choreographer Heather Warfel Sandler took advantage of the lawn’s broad expanse in her piece “Run Through.” Here two dancers, Gianna Diaz and Tamir Rios, inscribed a wide circle, walking and jogging in tandem, their movement flecked with saucy rhythms and gestures suggesting a lifetime of shared conversation and experiences. At one point, Diaz could no longer keep up, leading to a poignant separation. Yet this parting was only temporary, as Rios eventually lay down next to Diaz to share her (final?) resting place.

Two choreographers availed themselves of the porch in front of Smith Hall.

Wonderfully compact, Olga Rabetskaya’s trio entitled “kimono” progressed from delicate oscillations and careful foldings to daredevil leaps and poses that suggested stylized combat — all within a tiny space that could be measured in tatami mats.

Lynn Needle’s “Hope” combined dancing with a spoken text to draw a moral from the COVID crisis. In this scenario, the events of the past year became a bedtime story told to a child. Stationed on the porch, Michael Leluc and Maddie Leluc portrayed a father and his small daughter, she clutching a teddy bear and listening wide-eyed while, below them, Needle danced on the patio, the dancer’s passion conveying an immediacy and a drama that the words did not.

The “message” of this playlet was clearly stated: By interrupting our thoughtless, self-destructive routines, the COVID crisis has given us all a chance to rediscover our humanity and reorder our priorities. It’s a funny thing about art, though; possessing a life of its own, a work of art often goes beyond its creator’s intentions. By portraying the COVID crisis as a bedtime story cum fairy tale (“Tell me the one about the virus, again!”), “Hope” suggested not only the questionability of official narratives but also the shocking degree to which we have allowed our fears to infantilize us during the past year. The broader and indeed hopeful message of this amazing piece was that COVID is a story we tell ourselves, and that we have the power to change it. This view is authentically “outside the lines.”

Dancers in Donna Scroi Samori’s “My Back to You.”

Inevitably, several dances on this program dwelt on the suffering we have endured in our self-imposed prisons. Ariel Rivka’s “In Her Words” was, perhaps, the ultimate example of this dance of neurotic anxiety, in which four women clawed at themselves and trembled, performing obsessive, repetitive movements.

While such a dance contains much psychological truth, it was also liberating to watch dances in which fear and groveling did not take center stage. Donna Scro Samori’s “My Back to You” was a modern love song in which dancers Andrew Kruep and Victoria May lay spooned together, then arose to chase each other and form complementary shapes. Gently taking hands, they darted swiftly into lifts with May either diving through space or cradled safely in Kruep’s arms. The centerpiece of this lyrical dreamscape was a table that served as the lovers’ bed and turned the space into their personal playground. Terrific!

Dances by Nikki Manx, Erin Carlisle Norton and Alexandra Williamson completed the program.

For more on the Outside the Lines series, visit outsidethelinessitespecific.com.

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