Fringe is a time to get out of your comfort zone. You already have a day pass; you’ve already set aside the time, so why not take a chance on something new? As a theater lover who is afraid to look too closely at a dance floor, I thought, what better way to get out of my comfort zone than to watch three dance performances? I headed over to The Southern Theater, one of the Fringe’s go-to dance spaces, for three hours of movement, dramatic lighting, and a physical imagery that I don’t usually see 11 months out of the year. And I might have even learned something.
World-building and myths
The first show I saw, De Hjerteløse [The Heartless], was probably closer to physical theater than dance (not going to lie though; still pretty far out of my comfort zone). Written and directed by Kimberly Miller, the show mixed dialogue and narration with meticulously timed choreography to tell a story inspired by Norse mythology. When Ingrid’s husband is captured by a giantess, she undertakes a mission to find him and take his place in captivity, and then tries to escape — but not without learning some hard truths.
The young ensemble created a lovely rhythm with this show, representing the sea and legendary figures with whispering breath and background movement. The dance-heavy movements lent the show the magic it needed to bend our imaginations to the myth. When the devised choreography called for Ingrid to be swept up into the air on another performer’s shoulders, it was easy to envision the cold Northern waves. Cohesive costumes, a creative use of The Southern’s light plot, and musician/composer Zach Briscoe’s guitar and drum scoring really helped to build the world.
Raindrops and Orwell
Turning a bit farther from the T word and more toward the D word, Body Group’s Duality: Expression/Reflection was an abstract look at self-discovery. It opened with a solo work that used repeated and desperate actions to reflect on mental health. A couple of faster, more upbeat works with the full company of female dancers followed. They all balanced each other out well, and while the pieces did not form a cohesive statement, they flowed.
The highlight of the show was the final piece, The Lizard Queens, where a quintet dumped old books onto the stage and danced in vintage raincoats, sometimes reciting a line from George Orwell’s 1984. The sunglasses, the sequins, the serious faces and stark movement made the piece disturbingly beautiful. It sparked thoughts of the different realities that exist inside of people: the ones we live in with our friends, the ones we project when we walk in the rain, and the ones that exist only in our minds as we read.
The last dance show I saw explored different facets of an indescribable emotion. Chicago-based RE | dance group’s It’s About Love Again This Year opened on dancers in eveningwear moving to the familiar sound of Charles Trenet’s Le Mer. Flowing effortlessly from vignette to vignette, the show was at once elegant, playful and messy — soloist Lucy Vurusic Riner squealed as dancers smashed cake into her mouth; choreographer Michael Estanich transformed into a dog lovingly greeting his owner. Intentional chaos reigned as dancers made a mountain out of chairs and jammed under disco ball lights. They stopped only to speak into a microphone about what they love — from ordinary things like Netflix binges to the profound way their loved ones look at them.
The performers’ commitment to creating these feelings really came through, as did their individual personalities. They moved with understated skill over the stage, often in as split-screen way: a group of dancers climbed over furniture on one side — the shenanigans after a party — while a trio danced gracefully up front. The piece was cleverly woven together, yet the performance was carefree. It worked different parts of the brain at once: the one hungry for affection, the one that loves silly banter and reckless abandon, and the one that appreciates beautiful images and music.
Vurusic Riner, the dance group’s executive director and co-founder (who also ate cake onstage) said the out-of-town group has performed at the Minnesota Fringe Festival before. Audiences here are more open to going out and seeing theater and dance than in the company’s hometown of Chicago, she said, so they are always “praying to get into the Fringe.”
Vurusic Riner said the Fringe is a great place to experiment with the balance of theatricality and dance, and the company uses it as a way to make dance shows more approachable for theater-going audiences.
“I fell like the average person is sometimes afraid to go see especially modern dance or contemporary dance, because they feel like they have to get it; they don’t understand what it is all the time. They feel like there has to be a linear narrative that they follow,” Vurusic Riner said.
So that’s my problem
Even though I did not go as far out of my comfort zone as I thought I would (all three shows had talking; two had characters and scenes), tonight was hugely educational. It got me closer to accepting I don’t always have to “get it” and can just let the movement wash over me.
That is also what Fringe is, right? Setting aside some money and time to just take these performances in, and to love the fact that we can. And who knows — we might find something totally new that is also perfect for us.