Dance Review: Treeline’s Show and Tell; the Proper Way to Play
Happy Birthday Treeline Dance Works! Although this one-year-old company may be just a baby on the dance scene, kiddos look out because she is growing in vigorous leaps and bounds…quite literally, in fact!
Her first full-length show, In Transit, demonstrates how technical prowess can meet child-like playfulness. Throughout, dancers play their bodies like musical instruments as they weave intricate formations and portray comedic/disturbing narratives. They seem to make games of spatial patterns as they move like scattering marbles or jumping checkers. All is accomplished with outstanding precision and ease. These ladies are not only capable of great feats of agility, but also of an honest connectedness to each other on stage.
All hailing from SUNY Brockport, company members Erin Johnson, Caroline Nelson, Jessica Reidy, Jenny Showalter, and Lyndsey Vader are a fox-force-five to be reckoned with. Lyndsey Vader’s sense of control, for example, in her solo “Pulse/Apology”, is breathtaking to watch. What astounding technical abilities she has with her brilliant execution of delicate balances and sharp, quick movements, all while speaking about the sound of her pulse. My heart stops, like her narrative describes, as she rocks in-and-out of warrior III, flips around to relevé and halts deftly on a dime. The disturbing last image, a fist under open palm, looks like a heart with splayed aortic valves. Oh, Treeline, you’ve kindled my inner-child’s imagination!
Immediately following is another energetic solo performance by Jessica Reidy, in “The (un)Natural Art of Dating.” This rousing jaunt into 1950’s dating has me enchanted from the get-go. Reidy instructs her audience members on the do’s and don’ts of catching a mate by winking, batting her lashes, and, my favorite, wetting her eyebrows! She explains the importance of holding a longing gaze as she performs an Exorcist-like head rotation. Absolutely brilliant! Her ensemble, Erin Johnson and Caroline Nelson, are perfect. The threesome dance-on together with the subtle pin-up sex-appeal of the Andrews sisters. The characterization is complete as nostalgic music plays and house-wife aprons sway, leaving me all giggles and smiles!
“Traveling to Recall A Becoming Of,” choreographed by Jenny Showalter, is another heavy weight champ in this choreographic line up. Here, the playfulness comes forth in the port de bras, as the girls use various arm gestures to draw lines in space. They make pulsing gestures with the hands, long reaches of the fingers and very specific movement like poking, jabbing, threading-the-needle, etc. Here, Showalter carves out space on stage by having the dancers spin in circles and run in diagonals. She also creates the image of hallways as the dancers run upstage to downstage. If Jeffy, from Family Circus, were dancing, he’d leave one helluva dotted-line map on stage!
Beautiful spatiality also appears in the opening piece, “Caged Until”, which is, in my opinion, the most outstanding piece of the evening. This piece represents Treeline’s sense of play perfectly. Audience members are greeted by the upstage right violin trio, whose diagonal bowing movements seem to inspire the entering dancers whose outstretched arms oppose outstretched legs in an off-balance tilt. Lovely! They move in and out of unison, using musical phrasing and quick level changes to create a gorgeous symphony.
Again, Showalter is a master at choreographing spatial arrangements. I find myself so entranced by her patterns that I fail to notice how suddenly, the dancers are lined up at the stage’s edge with their backs to the audience. A musical change happens, as the fourth wall is broken, and my experience shifts from spectator to insider. I become engaged in their game.
Yes, the rest of the piece is like a game. A series of place-switching follows as they stir up space like in a game of tag. This leads to another line-up, but this time, a wall line-up for picking teams on a playground. There is a persistent theme of odd-man out, which is perhaps representative of playground politics. Signature to Showalter’s style, specific hand gestures are repeated in motifs, i.e. a head cradled in a partner’s hands, and, most memorably, the fist meeting the open palm as when rock meets paper in “rock, paper, scissors”.
Favorite moment in the entire show: a dramatic lift where one dancer grabs hold of another’s waist and hoists her own lower body into the spot where bodies should collide, but the third dancer ducks in the nick of time! Shocking and yet not shocking at the same time because this is so characteristic of how fabulously these femmes dance together. They dive into near-miss lifts and athletic floor phrases, as fearlessly as a five-year-old does a flying dismount off the swing set!
The playful nature continues well into the second act. In Jenny Showalter’s solo, “Kilter”, weight-play rules. With the music reminiscent of a French bistro or circus, I imagine Showalter as a mime on a tightrope at times. There’s an off-balance circular section that conjures the image of a spinning top as it begins to lose steam. Unfortunately, the rest of the second act begins to lose steam as well. I notice an overwhelming music trend throughout the evening: strings. And while nice to start, I find the use of violins and/or cellos (in over half the pieces) to be a bit tiresome by the end, and soon crave something different.
While the music DOES support the playful style—switching drastically from slow and meditative, to speedy and virtuosic—it can be on the verge of melodramatic as is the case with “A Shell of Herself.” In this text duet, Lyndsey Vader and Caroline Nelson pounce around like ferrets, squeaking out lines barely audible above the intense music, which is building unnecessarily. I feel as though I am watching a soap opera, one where the actors are clearly reading cue cards. The text seems superimposed and not at all connected with what the dancers are saying with their bodies. If we put the whole piece on mute, as Lindsey does to herself in the beginning of the piece (a moment I actually love), then the message would read something like this: “Look at this. Look at me. Look at all this dancing. See these tricks? My leaps and kicks? I’m flexing, pointing, leg-extending, rolling and panting… all in my undergarment dressings.” Perhaps this is all intentional, referring back to the title, “Shell of Herself”. The one time Nelson says, “I don’t know what that means,” face-to-face with Vader, I finally believe her. But then, the movements quickly return to that familiar dance/yoga/Pilates vocabulary, and I’m even more anxious to see something different.
Similar are my feelings on the last piece, “Unearthed Moments.” Playful still, it begins with counting, like a young girls’ hand-clapping song. I adore the choice of all heads looking up at the first number, “four.” This reminds me of the attention-catching word “fore” used in golf. But the movement is still all so akin to what came before, and at this point, I’m desperately waiting for them to produce something outside the choreographic sandbox: to get away from codified dance for a moment and explore moving more pedestrian or with more subtlety. The moment of saving grace happens when Caroline Nelson sits perched atop supporting bodies and does a slow pan across the audience. Yes! Slowness. Stillness. A moment to reflect and digest. In fact, I love the subsequent slow motion movement wishing I could see more of it!
Overall, Treeline does a beautiful job of painting the canvas with lots of detail and activity, but one doesn’t necessarily have to show all one’s cards at once. I think they can afford to do less, in some respects. Going back to “Pulse/Apology”, the silent score supports Vader’s moments of suspension beautifully, and I find myself wishing it would last longer when jarringly, a background score of medieval chants is introduced. Although the sounds are haunting, they are also distracting from the text. Perhaps if the music were more sparse, I’d be able to decipher the text better.
In Transit marks a choreographic rite-of-passage; the event where artistic directors Jenny Showalter and Lyndsey Vader show form a synthesis of what they’ve gathered over the past few years—from schoolings at SUNY Brockport, residencies in New York and Chicago, and mentors such as Pamela Vail, and Don Halquist (guest choreographers in the program). What an appropriate title indeed! Congratulations to them as they make this daring transition from the classroom/studio into the professional dance world. And while there are always points to work on, there are outnumbering points of interest that give this company much success!
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