Thu 6/31-Sat 6/2
We went to Cleveland Public Theatre on Saturday night and saw Inlet Dance Theatre. The concert included two works that were new to us and a revival of Easter Island Memoirs (2012), a piece that grew out of Inlet’s participation in an International Artist Exchange with the artists of Easter Island.
Easter Island or Rapa Nui is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world so, appropriately, choreographer Bill Wade and his collaborators begin with a reference to the canoe voyage of Hotu Matua, the legendary king who brought his people to the island. The eight dancers stand in a line as if in a canoe and pass undulant waves back and forth along the line with their arm movements. It’s like ocean waves or paddling and it’s simple, apt, mesmerizing and very beautiful. It also goes on for a long time without developing much, so it’s fortunate that what follows is well worth the wait.
Movement II characterizes the women of Rapa Nui in a trio performed by Nicole Kapantas, Elizabeth Pollert and Emily Stonecipher. They begin in a grouping that recalls the three graces and quickly launch into dancing that includes much Pilobolus-style partnering, Inlet’s forte. They lift and carry each other with calm confidence that simultaneously suggests the women of Rapa Nui and speaks well of Inlet’s training and rehearsal process.
In Movement III the three Inlet men — Joshua Brown, Dominic Moore-Dunson and Kevin Parker — characterize the men of Rapa Nui with more Pilobolus-style partnering. Moore-Dunson is one of the biggest men you’re ever likely to see in a modern dance company so the most spectacular moments in Movement III feature him not lifting but being lifted by Brown and Parker who are medium-sized. It’s eye-catching enough when Moore-Dunson stands on their shoulders but truly spectacular when they move forward so that he slowly walks five feet above the stage. Also spectacular, their three-man back walkovers (pictured here with Justin Stentz instead of Kevin Parker).
But our momentary fixation on the spectacular belies one of Inlet’s primary virtues in Easter Island Memoirs. However amazing their movement vocabulary, Inlet always shows us dance compositions, not circus tricks. That’s what sustains interest in Movement V, Wind, a duet performed by Brown and Parker. We hear wind sounds emanating from the darkened stage as the two men twirl heavy ropes. Then lighting designer Trad A. Burns brings the lights up to silhouette and Wind settles into about eight minutes of a dance that could be titled What Can These Two Guys Do With Some Ropes? The answer is, no tricks and nothing much out of the ordinary, but committed, energetic performances and solid composition keep Wind interesting.
After intermission, And Still I Rise draws power from its title’s reference to Maya Angelou’s well-known poem, Still I Rise, and from the music Wade has chosen for this piece, Samuel Barber’s very beautiful and very sad Adagio for Strings. The choreography and Moore-Dunson’s performance consist largely of rising up, falling — sometimes with a shocking impact — and rising again while the other seven dancers watch from upstage.
We can think of at least one dance in which that metaphor — rising against adversity equals the dancer rising upright — resulted in unwatchable bathos. But And Still I Rise steers clear of bathos through restrained choreography and performance and by, again, drawing on the power of its title and its music.
The final piece in the concert, Sojourn, concerns the current refugee crisis. In a series of vignettes, small groups of dancers holding electric lights come onto the stage and variously enact their search for a home or a safe haven. Brown and Pollert are a couple fleeing a holocaust; Moore-Dunson and Parker are lost brothers. Emily Stonecipher is a widow who holds a small piece of paper up to the people she meets; surely it’s an address she’s searching for in a strange city. Watching Sojourn it’s impossible not to sympathize with the plight of refugees. The music by Max Richter amps up the emotional level considerably.
Inlet’s motto is “using dance to further people” and their dancers really embody that, radiating sweetness and positivity from the stage, even as their steely legs and spines support unlikely feats. To see more of Inlet this summer, check their performance and education schedule here. We especially recommend the recital that wraps up Inlet’s Summer Dance Intensive at Cain Park Thu 7/26.
Inlet Dance Theater performed in Cleveland Public Theater’s DanceWorks 5/31-6/2.
[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]