Helen Simoneau Danse finishes in Winston-Salem and hits the road

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 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 and 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 are 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. We spoke after the first act, which was the performance of “The Task of Doing.” 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-adjusted 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 dance examines how people interact in various roles as humans from examining oneself in the mirror to dancing like nobody’s watching. The dancers began by dancing in synch and then breaking the mold at least briefly. My favorite part was a section where the two men danced with each other, seemingly controlling each other as one being while tossing each other about. Their movements were so fluid and their strength apparent. 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).” For me the break out 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. The music, tempo and emotion changed the ambiance with one girl commanding the stage. The audience seemed to agree with their loud woos. The final dance 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). They closed the show with “Moonlight Parade” and to a standing ovation from the audience.