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DANCE, DESIGN ON DISPLAY AT HANESBRANDS THEATRE

by Dani Vanderboegh

Friday night marked the end of the Helen Simoneau Danse: 5 years of Creating Danse at the Hanesbrands Theatre in Winston-Salem. It also marks the beginning of the troop packing up and taking its show on the road to Charlotte and then to Washington, D.C.

With a packed house, I was fortunate enough to see the performance in the front row and sitting in front of Board Chair Ralph Womble, who joked in his opening that he had seen someone scalping tickets outside, so he knew the show had “made it.” I also sat next to Jennifer O’Kelly, a painter, sculptor and professional light designer who has owned Muse Scenic Studio for 20 years in DADA and said she went to UNSCA as did Simoneau.

O’Kelly actually designed the frames that were in the first act. She said she met Simoneau by congratulating her after a previous show. The frames are basically the only props in the program, with the exception of a chair in the second dance. They range from 60 inches squared weighing 28 pounds to 18-by-24 inches weighing 2 pounds. O’Kelly said creating the roadready props was a bit of a challenge “” the largest one wouldn’t fit into a van, so it comes apart into two pieces.

We spoke after the first act, “The Task of Doing,” which uses O’Kelly’s frames. O’Kelly said, “I really love this piece. I can really see the maturation of this company since I saw the piece before (probably during the workshop portion).” She went on to explain that the dancers were so well-ad justed to each other that their movements were seamless.

We also discussed the costumes. The four dancers (Hannah Darrah, Kayla Farrish, Burr Johnson and Miles Yeung) were clad in all-white seemingly formal outfits, but each had one little bit of flare, such as a button down shirt with weaved, shredded portions on the back or a dress vest with one round hole in the back, that gave the outfits a modern take on classic feel, much like the Hunger Games, via costume designer Kathryn Grillo.

The frames are integral to the first dance because they serve as the dancers’ picture-perfect selves as well as the mirror with which they see themselves. The dance examines how people interact in various roles as humans from critically examining oneself in the mirror to dancing like nobody’s watching. The dancers began by dancing in synch and then each breaking the mold at least briefly.

My favorite part was a section where the two men, Yeung and Johnson, danced with each other, seemingly controlling each other as one being while tossing each other about. Their movements were so fluid, and their strength was apparent and impressive. The music was erratic at best, with emotional shifts ranging from chaotic music to complete silences that perplexed (to the point a woman clapped in the middle of the dance thinking it was over) and enthralled the audience.

The second act was composed of three shorter dances: “Caribou” (starring Helen Simoneau herself), “Suddenly I See” and “Moonlight Parade (for Two).”

“Caribou,” Simoneau’s most recent work, was created while she was on residence in Italy in 2013. She took the stage, sitting in a chair, clad in what looked like a long, almost dress length, plaid button-down shirt, a furry coat and some black boots; the look had a Courtney Love in the ’90s appeal. She quickly shed the fur and boots, and went into a deeply emotional dance that included writhing around on the ground for a bit and extreme silences, similar to the first dance. According to the show’s press release, “Her Québécois heritage provides soulful anchors to this work as she delves into issues of assimilation, identity and the willing erasure of the self.”

For me the breakout of the second act was “Suddenly I See,” which was choreographed and danced by Durham native Kristin Taylor rather than Simoneau, a first in five years, according to press contact, Marcus White. The music, tempo and emotion changed the ambiance with one girl commanding the stage.

The final dance, “Moonlight Parade,” brought back many of the strong, fluid, tossing around stage movements that impressed me in the first dance except this time between two women (Kayla Farrish and Ariel Freedman).

“It’s a dynamic show “” it’s amazing. I would say it’s the best one yet,” said White. “It’s definitely something to go see.” The audience seemed to agree with their loud woos and standing ovation. !

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