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"iMEE Dance Company's cohesive and emotionally satisfying content demands full attention from the audience" - by Tara Christine Gragg

Posted by imeedanceco on October 16, 2015 at 7:30 PM

iMEE Dance Company’s Cohesive And Emotionally Satisfying Content Demands Full Attention From The Audience

Written by Tara Christine Gragg

October 12, 2015


From the moment the audience entered the Megley Black Box Theatre for iMEE's the sum of 4 / + one, co-founding directors Andrea Dawn Shelley and Spencer Gavin Hering had carefully framed the world containing the hour-long dance experience. iMEE artists Shelley, Hering, Cristian Laverde Konig, and Brit Wallis stood stoically shoulder to shoulder, backs turned and gazes fixed through the panes of a disembodied window, with Alan Alberto a lone figure seated at a rectangular wooden table. Projections by collaborating artist Oliver Halkowich flickered unassumingly in the background: grasses rippling in the wind, the fractured images of a kaleidoscope. The scenery and costuming (each dancer began in tailored black pants, black jazz boots, and a long black coat) evoked post-apocalyptic Americana; the aesthetic could be described as a 21st-century imagining of American Gothic.

One of the great strengths of the sum of 4 / + one was its superbly constructed continuity. Shelley and Hering, a married couple, each contributed to the evening's choreography. The pieces listed in the program were less chapters of a story than stanzas of a poem; as a whole, sum was an hour of undeniably narrative dance without becoming a story ballet. The choreographic styles of husband and wife complemented each other to great effect here, and I was glad to disregard my program until after the show and let the individual works blend seamlessly into one another. Shelley's Missing the Blues was a strong introduction, allowing gestures as simple and familiar as rock-paper-scissors to have as equal importance as the complex partnering among all five dancers when they joined one another at the table. This moment in particular was exhilarating to watch, with the dancers sliding, rolling, and lifting one another across the table's lacquered surface--a playful exchange that appeared fun and breezy but surely must have required a great deal of trial and error in rehearsal.


I Walk the Line, a brief but compelling solo, singled out Hering as the + one. While Hering danced jauntily through the quirky choreography the other four dancers took turns walking from the table to the window--attached to a zip line--to interact with him, none of them quite crossing the line that might bring him into the fold. Hering's outsider status was cemented in the next offering, Shelley's Sun, Moon & Stars, in which he became a Friar Lawrence figure to the two couples, Wallis paired with Konig and Shelley with Alberto. Tenderness escalated into tension, providing a fitting transition into Shelley's the sum of Her and Him.


Once again Halkowich's work appeared on the backdrop, one of two short films that became the main focus, providing additional ambiance while allowing the dancers some time to rest and change. If these films felt a bit too long for me, perhaps it was only because the dancing was so good. The first film, featuring both still images and video recording of Konig and Wallis, was slightly more effective. The more mercurial of the two couplings, Konig and Wallis were by turns combative, affectionate, and reflective. Shelley used the costuming to great effect here, allowing the dancers to seize control or show vulnerability by adding or removing clothing. At the climax of the piece, Wallis forced Konig to remove his pants, quite literally stripping him of power, before he lifted her onto his chest for a kiss. Although the next two pieces for the couple, Hering's You Are my Sunshine and Shelley's If You Wanna Be Happy, could very well have been about completely different people, I viewed these vignettes as if they were memories in this couple's history, a prequel to the sum of Her and Him. 


Perhaps, Hering's solo for Wallis to Doris Day's song of the same title, was delightful. A welcome, lighthearted respite from the previous pieces, Perhaps had Wallis sauntering about the stage in a white and red waitress uniform. Somehow neither the inclusion of twerking nor drumming her inexplicable prop coconut seemed out of place. It was Halkowich's La Te Da beforehand that was most problematic. The film's enigmatic subject, Phoebe Halkowich, frolicked forward and back through the Spanish moss of Micanopy, FL, slowed and sped in turn, to Perhaps, first sung a cappella and followed by the instrumental Doris Day version. When the song began to play a third time for Wallis's solo, it was a bit much, but Wallis's urgent and commanding presence made it worth the repetition.


Just when we began to wonder when Shelley and Alberto might take the stage, they arose to give us Shelley's riveting The Secret of Life is to Fall Seven Times & Get Up Eight. Set to Tomaso Albinoni's funereal adagio and danced in the long black coats, Secret is certainly about loss. It is unclear whether the two are dancing as a couple untimely separated or seeking solace in one another over their own personal losses, but it doesn't matter. The chemistry between Shelley and Alberto smoldered, and the pairing provided a nice contrast with that of Wallis and Konig. Whereas the satisfaction in watching the latter couple came from a sensation of peering in on their private lives, Shelley and Alberto satisfied by pulling the audience directly into their experience of pleasure and pain.


The culmination of the sum of 4 / + one showcased the full ensemble in Hering's choreography. Just as in the opening table sequence, iMEE was at its strongest in this piece when seamlessly navigating intricate group lifts and patterns to Max Richter's shimmering score. The unison work suffered slightly by comparison to the polished solos and duets, but the sweeping movements were satisfying to watch. 


iMEE accomplished an impressive feat with the sum of 4 / + one: the realization of their artistic vision. No component felt out of place throughout the evening, and the directors' intelligent programming along with Amanda Motta's stage management and lighting design helped pull the pieces together in an age during which the use of technology can so often go awry. Many repertory dance companies would do well to learn from iMEE's format; the hour-long run time filled with cohesive, aesthetically and emotionally satisfying content was the perfect length of time to demand full attention from the audience. Although there were many applause-worthy moments throughout, it is a testament to Shelley's and Hering's pacing that the crowd held their hearty applause until the end of the performance.


iMEE presented the sum of 4 / +one on Saturday, Oct. 10 and Sunday, Oct. 11 at Megley Black Box Theatre, Newport, Rhode Island, USA.


ABOUT the AUTHOR / Tara Christine Gragg received her early training in her hometown of Flint, MI at the Flint School of Performing Arts. She went on to graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a BFA in Ballet. During her time with Oklahoma Festival Ballet, OU’s performing company, Tara had the opportunity to perform featured roles in works by renowned choreographers and was fortunate to participate in an international tour to Shanghai, China. Since graduation, she has danced with City Ballet of San Diego, Tulsa Ballet, and Grand Rapids Ballet; her professional repertoire includes ballets by George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, August Bournonville, Paul Taylor, and Lew Christensen.  She was also a founding company dancer with NomadicLIMBS, a summer dance collective based in Milwaukee, WI from 2011-2012. In 2012, Tara moved to Chicago and performed with many companies in the city including Chicago Repertory Ballet, the Ruth Page Civic Ballet, and Aerial Dance Chicago; she also appeared as a featured solo dancer and aerialist in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of Richard Wagner’s Parsifal. Ms. Gragg is currently in her second season with Island Moving Co in Newport,RI.

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